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Curro learners impress with AI solution for African wild dogs

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 30 Mar 2021
Curro Academy Pretoria learner Tsakane Koko.
Curro Academy Pretoria learner Tsakane Koko.

Curro Academy students have garnered the world’s attention with their human-centric artificial intelligence (AI) solution to trace and locate African wild dogs.

The all-girls team came second in a global event, the Imagine Cup Junior Virtual Artificial Intelligence Hackathon, Girls Edition 2021, after presenting their solution to protect the wild dog, one of the world’s most endangered mammals.

According to independent conservation organisation World Wide Fund for Nature, Southern Africa hosts the largest remaining population of African wild dogs.

The hackathon, sponsored by Microsoft in partnership with Unesco, is a live international event where teams of two to five individuals compete by trying to solve real-world problems through the use of AI.

The Curro team, led by Tsakane Koko, and consisting of Hesme Cronje (Grade 12, Curro Heritage House), Humbulani Mudziwa (Grade 12, Curro Academy Soshanguve), Anamika Beethasi (Grade 11, Curro Waterfall) and Tahlia Bell (Grade 10, Curro Mossel Bay), competed against 21 other countries, including Egypt, Canada, England and Croatia, among others.

For the challenge, the team prepared a presentation with ideas to help trace and locate African wild dogs, using AI.

The learners received a tour on how the hackathon will work, as well as being shown online demos to use in order to get a feel for the capabilities of AI.

The next step was to take data and apply machine learning code to it. The end goal was for all the girls taking part in the challenge to design the outline of a Web service that uses AI.

The group, which competed as Team Cognition, then made use of AI to search social media posts containing any geotags or hashtags relating to African wild dogs or their known habitats.

“Their presentation focused on AI methods to pick up any indications in the wild dogs’ behaviour that could link to illness or other threats as well as interventions. This way, the animals receive little human intervention and therefore live a more ‘natural’ life. The team’s presentation also covered ensuring wild dogs will be protected from geological disasters, or processes like droughts, floods, etc, as well as human activities,” says Charlotte Jooste, phase head at Curro Academy Pretoria.

Jooste describes Tsakane Koko as a top learner, and assisted her to prepare for the challenge. “The school was informed of the challenge, and decided to put Tsakane forward as a viable candidate – for which she was selected to take part.”

Commenting on the success of the team, Tsakane’s father, Sello Koko, said the challenge helped learners to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges by thinking outside the box.

“Tsakane did very well, and we thank the teachers for helping her prepare for the challenge. As a father, I am very proud of her, she is a top learner − she’s smart and works hard. This challenge was a great platform for her to challenge herself with the best learners around the globe,” he said.