(February 22, 2021) Instead of the unscientific approach of mass helicopter roundups, humanely managing wild horses requires a more sophisticated method that relies on fieldwork and on-the-ground knowledge of the horse or burro populations a particular BLM district is managing.
AWHC aims to harness science and technology to advance the goal of humane management of these iconic animals. AWHC already runs the largest humane wild horse fertility control program in the world. Now we’re excited to be partnering with WildMe, a non-profit that builds open software and artificial intelligence for the conservation community with the goal of protecting at-risk species.
Our goal is to develop an algorithm that will identify individual horses from photographs, something that will greatly enhance the efficiency of our fertility control efforts while providing a mechanism for accurate censusing and tracking of wild herds, using citizen science for the collection of data.
Currently, our Virginia Range fertility control program volunteers identify horses manually by photograph, based on our extensive database of more than 3,000 horses cataloged by color, markings, social affiliation, location, and any other identifying features. It's a method that works, as evidenced by our record of delivering over 3,000 fertility control treatments in less than two years. However, it is time-consuming. Having an algorithm that allows a volunteer to take a photo, run it through the software and come up with the data file on that specific horse will make the process of identifying mares in need of PZP treatment much faster - something our volunteers -- who are often in the field under punishing weather conditions - will greatly appreciate!
The research should be complete by June and we should know at that time whether the algorithm (PIE) being tested will work for horses. We’ll keep you posted.