Discovering Trafficked Wildlife Using 3D X-rays and Artificial Intelligence

Australia prides itself on being home to some of the world’s most diverse and unique wildlife, but with this richness comes a market for the illegal wildlife trade.

Current techniques for detecting illegally trafficked wild animals have included X-ray scans, physical detection by border security, and the use of biosecurity dogs.

Now, Australian scientists have found that 3D X-ray technology and Artificial intelligence Together (AI) algorithms can be used to detect trafficked wildlife hidden in baggage or other merchandise.

The team created a 3D-scanned “reference library” of three classes of wildlife – lizards, birds and fish – which they used to teach artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to detect the animals.

The AI ​​achieved a detection rate of 82% with a false infection rate of only 1.6%.

The recently published Study in the magazine Frontiers in conservation science Interactions between humans and wildlifeHe is the first to document the use of 3D X-ray scanning technology to protect wildlife.


Read more: Reptiles are threatened by online trade.


“Taking animals from the wild poses conservation risks to species, local people, habitats and ecosystems, and stopping the trade of wildlife to Australia protects our unique natural environment from exotic pests and diseases,” says Sam Hoch, Acting Assistant Minister for the Environment. and water (DCCEEW).

Wildlife detected
Example of successful lizard detection via a wildlife algorithm. This is a screenshot of the user interface alerting the player to a detected shingleback lizard (Teleco Rogosa) across the surrounding green square that he named a lizard. Credit: Pirotta, V. et al. / Frontiers

It is also very harsh. Smuggled animals often suffer from stress, dehydration or starvation and many die in transit. We have worked with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to test and validate 3D wildlife X-rays and algorithms that have proven very effective.”

There is also a biosecurity component. “Illegal wildlife trade presents a significant threat to Australia’s biosecurity as it may lead to the emergence of pests and diseases that can affect the environment, as well as human and animal health,” says Dr Chris Locke, Deputy Secretary of the Biosecurity and Compliance Group at DAFF.

The research team used 3D X-ray CT using Real Time Tomography (RTT) in the study. This is a technique that uses X-rays to produce a series of image cross-sections through an object, in this case an animal, which can be manipulated to provide a 360-degree view of it.

Deceased specimens have already been screened with an explosive detection screening system currently used at international borders and around the world at airports and mail shipping facilities.


Read more: Should we keep native Australian animals as pets?


The library contained 294 scans from 13 different species in different scenarios – from an animal alone to more complex and realistic smuggling scenarios – which were then used to teach AI algorithms to detect animals.

This paper demonstrates the limitless potential of the 3D X-ray algorithm in helping to prevent the trafficking of exotic wildlife, and to protect Australia’s agricultural industries and unique natural environment from exotic pests and diseases.

“This innovative technology is an invaluable complementary platform to our existing biosecurity and wildlife detection tools at Australian international borders, with potential global applications in the future,” Locke says.



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