Wired: Off the coast of Southern California, amid a literal sea of troubles—warming waters, microplastic pollution, overfishing—is a 96-square-mile conservation success story. Santa Cruz Island once teemed with feral pigs and invasive Argentine ants until the Nature Conservancy unleashed a coordinated campaign of eradication. That’s allowed the adorable island fox to bounce back from the brink of extinction.
The battle was won, but the war wasn’t over, because the Nature Conservancy now has to defend that territory from yet another invader: rats. The scourge of islands everywhere, rats get ashore and breed like crazy, devouring just about everything in their paths—native plant seeds, bird and reptile eggs, local people’s crops. (Urban islands of steel and concrete, especially Manhattan, are of course plagued as well.) Once they’re established, it’s exceedingly difficult to get rid of them. On the Galápagos Island of Seymour Norte, conservationists had to attack them with poison-dropping drones.
So on Santa Cruz Island, the Nature Conservancy has been experimenting with a surveillance system to learn whether rats have landed, using a network of wildlife camera traps and the same AI technique that recognizes human faces in photographs. While scientists have been using various forms of the camera trap for a hundred years, this version automatically detects when a rodent comes into view, then sends an email alert to the conservationists. “You can think about it as a Ring doorbell for rats,” says Nathaniel Rindlaub, a software developer at the Nature Conservancy who’s leading the project.
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