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5 Fascinating Ways That Big Data and Analytics Are Helping Animals

March 23, 2021 • Devin Partida

You’ve probably heard about instances of big data and analytics doing everything from enabling leaders to make better business decisions to showing retailers which items to restock before they sell out. Those are valid use cases, but these technologies also help animals. Here are five fascinating examples that’ll keep you feeling excited about what’s possible. 

1. Showing the Connections Between Consumer Purchases and Impacts to Endangered Species

Even people who make conscious and continual decisions to buy sustainable stuff find meeting that goal is not as straightforward as it might seem. That’s because it’s often impossible to trace the effects of every step in the production process. 

Scientists relied on big data and analytics to provide more clarity. They examined more than 6,800 at-risk species to investigate how people’s purchases affected them. The team then turned that data into a series of world maps that showed the relevant hot spots for particular countries. 

One surprising revelation was that purchases made in the United States affected species in Spain and Portugal. The researchers hope that people — whether government authorities, global brands or concerned shoppers — will take information from the maps and make positive changes based on what they learn. 

2. Providing a Better Alternative to Animal Testing

Companies often test chemicals on animals to get a clearer idea of how certain ingredients might affect humans. However, there is growing public resistance against that long-standing practice. People insist on finding alternatives that don’t rely on animals for lab experiments. Some companies — such as LUSH Cosmetics — turn the fact that they don’t test products on animals into a major selling point. 

Data and analytics could pave the way for a future with drastically reduced tests on animals. A research team created advanced algorithms to work with vast chemical databases and predict the likelihood of toxicity. 

The best algorithm achieved an 87% accuracy rate in nine types of tests commonly administered on animals. That result was 6% higher than experiments in the same database that used creatures to find toxic chemicals. Scientists also said this method would work to verify the safety of other substances besides those tested on animals. 

3. Identifying the Birds Most Vulnerable to Climate Change

Researchers know that birds are exceptionally sensitive and responsive to environmental shifts. Thus, many are eager to determine how climate change could affect certain species. However, it’s insufficient to put all birds into one massive category. That’s because they have certain traits or behaviors that could make them more or less vulnerable. 

The typical method of studying the links between the climate and bird adaptation involves examining a small number of species across a few sites for several years. That approach at least allows drawing general conclusions. The team behind a recent project wanted to get more specific, however. 

They used big data and analytics tools to focus on 109 North American bird species over 15 years by taking information from more than 830,000 documented bird sightings. The research included fine-scale precipitation and temperature data from satellites, too. 

The results indicated that some birds would adapt to climate change without intervention. However, others will need targeted assistance from conservationists to avoid dire consequences. Getting those outcomes could help bird welfare groups better plan their efforts. 

4. Measuring and Improving Farm Animal Health

An illness outbreak can prove devastating for farmers who keep animals such as cows, pigs and sheep. Besides cutting into profit potential, sick animals can cause public health threats. Fortunately, big data and analytics tools for the agricultural sector are on the market. They identify signs of trouble that humans may otherwise overlook until it’s too late.

For example, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can measure things like an animal’s body temperature or feeding patterns, then provide alerts when such metrics stray from the norm. Specialty products also exist to support better reproductive outcomes for pregnant animals or those that may conceive soon. 

A project in Germany also used data and analytics to calculate health scores for farmed pigs. They analyzed animals using a four-tier system. It included meat inspection information and pig mortality statistics, plus data about salmonella monitoring and antibiotic consumption.

The researchers said their system could identify the farms that consistently keep animals at above-average health. Conversely, it may spotlight which agricultural enterprises have glaring shortcomings in their animal care and management practices. 

5. Increasing the Adoption Rates of Shelter Pets

You’ve probably come across some adorable pictures of pets up for adoption and were surprised to learn that they’d spent years in the shelter so far. Others find new homes in a matter of days or weeks. Big data and analytics could illuminate some factors influencing a shelter pet’s average likelihood of a speedy adoption. 

The largest no-kill animal shelter in the United States tasked data and analytics tools with finding the trends in outcomes for almost 80,000 adopted pets. Staff members could then see which features best predict an animal’s adoptability or which days of the week people most often choose pets to take home. 

This analysis also showed differences between dogs and cats. People ready to adopt felines cared most about whether they were spayed or neutered, the animal’s age and the kinds of coats they had. It also mattered to them if the cats had names. Those interested in adopting canines paid attention to age and coat-related factors, but their top concern was the dog’s breed. 

Learning those trends makes it easier for shelter workers to create animal-specific or adoption day advertisements that mention the things potential adoptees want to know. Additionally, this information can drive discussions between shelter workers and people interested in giving pets their forever homes. For example, what should someone know before adopting a long-haired cat or a toy dog breed, such as a Yorkshire Terrier?

Big Data and Analytics Dashboards Create a Brighter Future for Animals

These five examples show how the possibilities for using big data and analytics tools to benefit animals are virtually endless. Spotting patterns in vast quantities of information helps researchers make stronger predictions with more confidence. Then animals — and the people who appreciate them — enjoy immediate and future benefits. 

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