Heathrow Airport (LHR) has joined forces with Microsoft and Smiths Detection to test the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) model to fight illegal wildlife trafficking.

The first trial of the algorithm at the airport revealed a detection rate of more than 70% in identifying trafficked animals hidden in baggage and air cargo.

Under Project SEEKER, several X-ray images gathered from Smiths Detection’s CTX 9800 baggage scanners at Heathrow were utilised for training the Microsoft AI for Good model.

These solutions can scan nearly 250,000 bags a day and produce extensive data for inspection.

This ‘first of its kind’ multispecies AI model will provide more time, scope and information to authorities for tracing criminal traffickers and fight the $23bn illegal wildlife trafficking business.

Project SEEKER has received support from the UK Border Force and the Royal Foundation of the Duke of Cambridge.

After the detection of an illegal wildlife item, the security and Border Force officers will receive alerts from the technology, allowing them to take prompt action.

Furthermore, the Royal Foundation’s United for Wildlife programme will team up with its partners in the transport industry to support the international launch of the SEEKER capability.

In the same spirit, Crime Stoppers International (CSI), in partnership with the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership, has developed a mobile device application.

This application will enable members of the aviation sector to report suspicions of wildlife trafficking anonymously.

In September, aviation firms globally came together to denounce illegal wildlife trade and build safeguards to combat the practice.