Thermal cameras 'trained' to spot elephants to help protect species in wild

A thermal image of an elephant
Thermal imaging cameras were placed around the elephant enclosures Credit: Colchester Zoo

Elephants at Colchester and Whipsnade Zoo have been captured in thousands of thermal images, as part of a research project to protect the species in the wild.

Cameras were set up around the elephant enclosures to record the animals in a variety of poses.

Once the cameras have been 'taught' what an elephant looks like, they will be used in the wild to warn communities of approaching elephants and reduce conflict.

A statement from Colchester Zoo said: "Human-elephant conflict is a major conservation concern in elephant range countries and there is no other low-cost solution available that is capable of generating early warning alerts 24/7, so we are honoured to participate in this study."

Thousands of images were taken at Colchester and Whipsnade Zoos Credit: Colchester Zoo

Thermal images were taken of the elephants doing activities like reaching up to eat and in close proximity to humans, to allow the cameras to see different body shapes.

Jemima Mclanaghan, from Colchester Zoo, said the elephants were rather curious about the cameras when first introduced.

She said: "They were quite interested in them at first, they were trying to reach up to them and get as close as they can.

"We did end up having to move a couple of them a little bit further away so they couldn’t reach them, but once they got used to them they were absolutely fine."

Currently the cameras are able to accurately distinguish between an elephant and human from 30 metres away.

The technology has also been taught the difference between Colchester's African elephants and Whipsnade's Asian elephants.