Internacional | 14.12.2023

Saving the Wild with AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot topic — in business, law, philosophy, medicine, and more. From its projected impact on economic productivity to the existential threat to humanity, AI is front and center on the world stage.

Artificial intelligence dates back to the 1950s, but the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022 introduced a new realm of advanced technology – generative artificial intelligence (1).  Computers now have the skill to evaluate massive, complex datasets and design and generate content in the form of images, text, and sound, and do it more rapidly than humans. So, there is good reason to pay attention as AI has the potential to alter the planet and all its inhabitants, a power previously only accorded to the human species. The practical, legal, and ethical implications of this technology are considerable. 

Amidst the worrying and handwringing about the future of humanity, less attention is being paid to AI’s impact on nonhuman species and the environment. The good news is that wildlife is already benefiting from artificial intelligence. Because of generative AI’s enhanced image and language capabilities, scientists are gaining a greater understanding and knowledge of wild animals, supporting conservation through two areas: animal communication and identification. 

In the area of communication, scientists are seeking to use AI’s ability to capture vast amounts of data to listen to and translate the sounds of whales (2).  They are also working to decode other species' communications, applying natural language processing technology to study birds and primates (3).  Projects include training AI models to generate vocalizations and map new ones, exploring whether machine learning can categorize unlabeled calls of an endangered population of beluga whales, and solving the ‘cocktail party problem,’ which prevents researchers from determining the sources of vocalizations in recordings when more than one animal is ‘speaking’ at the same time (4).  It’s early, but these groundbreaking projects may challenge long-standing views of language in nonhuman animals and humans. 

In identification, AI’s pattern recognition and natural language capabilities are used to identify individual animals through their natural markings, genetic identifiers, and vocalizations, making tracking them in the wild easier (5).  Rather than following the animals, sedating, and tagging them, animals can be identified without touching them. In addition, machine learning experts and software professionals are collaborating with citizen scientists in social media forums to build even bigger image datasets for the research community (6). 
AI offers the promising potential to help reverse biodiversity loss and extinction through the collaboration between technology experts and animal scientists. In Britain, various AI-controlled devices such as cameras and microphones are being used to identify and track animals in the wild, helping to address Britain’s biodiversity loss (7).  Furthermore, with the increasing incidence of human-wildlife conflicts, scientists are exploring ways that AI can be used to enhance the effectiveness of mitigation efforts (8).   AI technology is making these efforts more reliable, effective, and cheaper (9). 

In yet another way, AI is helping animals by helping those who help them. AI professionals are working with animal nonprofit organizations to teach them to use AI to become more efficient and effective. With some simple tools of artificial intelligence, animal nonprofits can cost-effectively save time on administrative and fundraising duties, allowing them to focus on their missions and programs (10). 

All of these innovations require the involvement of many stakeholders, including lawyers, policymakers, and ethicists. Privacy and intellectual property laws and the various laws that govern our treatment of animals have taken on new legal dimensions with AI. Policies must be reevaluated, incorporating new and rapidly changing knowledge and supporting the beneficial use of AI, while at the same time deterring the spread of misinformation and deception. Governments must act to create a roadmap for the future. And all of this must happen quickly, as technology continues to advance. Underlying all of these issues are the ethical implications, now and in the future. 

These wildlife projects offer a snapshot of the promising work being done in the name of conservation. But much remains to be done. The illegal wildlife trade in endangered species and demand for wildlife products has become so profitable that it has risen to the level of a transnational organized crime, robbing countries of their biodiversity, damaging local communities, and adding to the already devastating costs associated with human and arms trafficking. There is hope that AI can turn its attention to these challenges as well.  

The dangers of AI are real, but the promises for animal protection are as well, and lawyers can play a key role in supporting those promises with policies and laws that benefit all. 

By Yolanda Eisenstein
President of the Animal Law Working Group
Santa Fe, New Maxico U.S.

(1) See OPENAI,
(2) See Project Ceti,
(3) See What We Do, Earth Species Project,  
(4) See What We Do: Research Projects, Earth Species Project, 
(5) See Codex: A New Age of Wildbook, Wildme,
(6) See Wildme Newsletter (April 2023), Wildme,
(7) Robin McKie, Only AI made it possible: scientists hail breakthrough in tracking British wildlife, THE GUARDIAN (AUG. 13, 2023),
(8)Tapinder Sidhu, Using Artificial Intelligence (machine vision) to Increase the Effectiveness of Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigations could Benefit WAW, Effective Altruism Forum (Oct. 28, 2022),
(9) Id.
(10) See Empowering Not-for-Profits with AI: Save Time, Cut Costs, Increase Impact, at