Heathrow teams up with Microsoft to combat wildlife traffickers
Air Cargo News
November 19, 2021
Heathrow Airport has teamed up with Microsoft to trial the world’s first
artificial intelligence system to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.
‘Project SEEKER’ detects animal trafficking in cargo and baggage passing
through the airport by scanning up to 250,000 bags a day.
It recorded a 70%+ successful detection rate and was particularly effective
at identifying ivory items such as tusks and horns.
By identifying more trafficked items and earlier, authorities have more
time, scope and information to pursue criminal traffickers and combat the
$23bn illegal wildlife trafficking industry
In addition to Microsoft, Project SEEKER has been developed in partnership
with UK Border Force and Smiths Detection and is supported by the Royal
Microsoft developers have taught Project SEEKER to identify animals or
products such illegal products used in medicines, and trials at Heathrow
have demonstrated the algorithm can be trained on any species in just two
The technology automatically alerts security and Border Force officers when
it detects an illegal wildlife item in a cargo or baggage scanner, and
objects seized can then be used as evidence in criminal proceedings against
The Duke of Cambridge visited Microsoft’s headquarters to hear about the
potential of this technology as part of his work with The Royal
Foundation’s United for Wildlife programme.
To support the development of this new technology, the Project SEEKER team
was able to benefit from United for Wildlife’s global network of expertise
on the illegal wildlife trade.
In addition, United for Wildlife will be working with its partner
organisations in the transport sector to support the global roll out of the
Jonathan Coen, Director of Security at Heathrow Airport, said: “Project
SEEKER and our partnership with Microsoft and Smiths Detection will keep us
one step ahead of traffickers, by exploring new technology that will help
us protect the world’s most precious wildlife.
“We now need to see more transport hubs deploy this innovative system, if
we are to take meaningful action on a global scale against this illegal
United for Wildlife has been working with organisations like Microsoft to
raise awareness of technology that can support efforts to disrupt the
criminal trade of wildlife products globally.
Following the pioneering trials at Heathrow, Microsoft is now calling on
conservation organisations, law enforcement agencies and other major
transport hubs to deploy Project SEEKER and help improve the AI model’s
Daniel Haines, AI Specialist and Project SEEKER Lead at Microsoft, said:
“Illegal wildlife trafficking has a devastating effect for the decline of
species and earth’s natural environments. It is a complex illicit trade but
with the right AI intervention deployed in the right places, we have a real
possibility of dismantling it.
“Project SEEKER shows the potential for data and AI to enable enforcement
teams to crack down on wildlife trafficking like never before.
“Improved rates of detecting illegal wildlife trafficking at transit hot
spots is just the start.
“The data captured by authorities will allow them to create a clear picture
of where smuggling starts, its routes and destinations, leading to a more
effective and collaborative approach to stamping out these criminal