AI generated videos in Wildlife field: Why they should be heavily restricted, to what, and why

Would you guys say that the image below is of a real-life encounter? That image is just a frame cropped out of a video (can’t post here but am sure you’ll find it with Google lens), but I can assure you that after watching the video myself, there is no doubt in my mind that this is AI generated

There’s a number of tells here, from the very un-catlike movements of the Leopard while moving toward the person and while in his presence, to the even more obvious appearance of the animal with its hair dancing too beautifully in the wind that looks like multiple strands have been bundled into perfectly even swathes. So not too hard to tell at all if one looks closely enough

What worries me is many of my fellow naturalists and conservation colleagues are beginning to fall for things like this and unknowingly endorse the unrealistic and harmful substance of this kind of media to their followers. I found this particular video on a post by a fellow plant fanatic who is very knowledgeable on ethnobotany and is super well travelled and studied, and he seemed really shocked when I told him that this is fake. I’ve also noticed how non-chalant people are when discussing the coming influence of AI throughout the entire wildife and environmental industry, barely lending any critical thought to the detrimental impacts it will bring.

Imagine if when we are much further down the line and videos like this have well become the norm: A child thinks to himself that if these men could befriend and touch a wild Snow Leopard, then surely any other animal alot smaller and alot less intimidating can be approached without consequence too - who or what will be accountable when that child gets seriously injured or worse?

Imagine what sort of message will be planted in the untrained minds of the youth when they watch generated videos of otherwise very uncommon, rare or even outright endangered animals frolicking blissfully through a vast agricultural or urban landscape, when in reality those animals would almost never be seen anywhere close to these continuously developed and transformed areas and if they were, would perish in a matter of days

I do believe AI has a good role to fit into regarding things like the Seek algorithm:

  1. There are many taxa out there, especially with insects and plants, which on iNat currently cannot be ID’d any farther than Genus or even Family level as the current knowledge systems require physical specimens to undergo things like genital dissection and other very laborious and time-consuming procedures that may in the end, not even prove to be much help and may be scrapped entirely as the science of Taxonomy advances. With the incredible database of photos we now have across platforms like iNat, GBIF and most herbariums that have either finished digitizing their collections or are close to, AI might be key in making such ID attempts alot more accurate through micro-measurements comparisons and other means that the human mind is incapable of.

  2. It can be used in camera trap technology too, for images that are far too blurry or obscure for us to make out if an animals even there, let alone what species.

  3. It can also be used in aerial surveys to drastically minimize error and under/overcounts of both common and elusive/ threatened game animals

So there is a place for it, no doubt, but it really should be restricted to use by researchers and active scientists and field conservationists, not to home-bound dabblers or tinkerers and most certainly not to pre-graduates who will try and meld it into pop culture and make it ‘fashionable’ no matter how pure the underlying attention. There are countless ways to get the uninitiated interested in and infatuated with nature and the struggle to preserve it for future generations - but AI-gen images and vids should not be one of them.

AI Threat to Wildlife

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Your worries are well founded and the same applies to many other fields, not just wildlife.

I do think though that soon people will be generally aware that basically anything can be fake. Which will lead us to the opposite problem: People may start not believing any visual proof anymore. Some natural desaster caused by climate change? Nah, must be fake. Mass media have made our worlds larger, I know what’s happening even if I can’t see it myself. AI might make our worlds smaller again.

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Today at Kirstenbosch there was a small troop of (wild) baboons. And tourist photographers getting closer and closer for that ‘better’ picture. Alarming to see.

But this is the context for that snow leopard picture.

In a mountain village where white leopards live, the film explores the symbiosis of humans and animals through the fantastical interaction of a young Tibetan monk and a leopard.

https://deadline.com/2023/11/tokyo-film-festival-winners-snow-leopard-pema-tseden-zar-amir-ebrahimi-1235589281/

deep poetic exploration into the transcendental from a Tibetan context

https://tiff.net/events/snow-leopard

This is a typical tourist behavior in Yellowstone National Park where people get too close to bears, bison and elk. I saw the behavior back in the 1990s when I visited (and used a telephoto lens for my photos). I think it has only gotten worse with smart phones and social media.

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