Teen Invents Improved Tool for Catching Elephant Poachers

Aug 15, 2022

Thought Question: If you were to help solve a global issue, what would it be and how would you contribute to the cause?

Anika Puri was on a family trip to India four years ago when her life changed. They went to a market and she saw many people selling ivory. She was stunned. 

Ivory comes from elephant tusks. Trading it has been illegal for over 30 years. But elephant poaching continues. Criminals bribe officials to look the other way. So, Anika, 17, decided to create a new tool that could stop the poachers. 

She learned that Africa’s forest elephant population had declined by about 62% from 2002 and 2011. The numbers just keep falling. 

Anika was mentored by a Harvard computer scientist. She spent two years creating ElSa. The name is short for Elephant Savior. ElSa is a software that uses machine learning. It analyzes patterns in videos of humans and elephants. Using the videos, it can figure out who might be a poacher. 

The software is 90% accurate. Anika told Smithsonian Magazine it is four times more accurate than the best current poacher detection methods. It's also cheaper to make.

Anika submitted her project to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. It's the biggest pre-college STEM competition in the world. She won two awards. One is for her ability to describe her research and how it could impact society. The other is for her project’s excellence in the earth and environmental sciences category. 

“It's really amazing just to see all these kids coming together,” Anika told the Smithsonian. “I was honored just to be on that stage.” 

Photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Which of the following ideas is not supported by numbers in the story? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. the decline of Africa’s forest elephant population
b. the accuracy of Anika Puri’s poacher detection software
c. the amount of time that ivory trading has been illegal
d. the affordability of Anika Puri’s poacher detection software
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