(CBS LOCAL) – A new idea to save elephants starts with a camera – a thermal camera, that is.

Researchers at Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Whipsnade Zoo, the UK’s largest zoo, hope those images will help protect the endangered species in the wild.

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“We needed a way to detect elephants in the dark. That was the real true need of this project,” says conservation tech specialist Alasdair Davies.

Tech specialists like Davies have been training a camera to recognize the shape of an elephant from its body heat.

“That’s every elephant bottom, ear shape, leg configuration, you name it. We have to teach the camera what an elephant looks like,” he says.

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More than 30,000 images later, it’s learned to detect the animal and send a warning. Conservationists plan to put the cameras in parts of Africa and Asia where elephants and people often clash.

“A family can put it out in the middle of the night if they’re worried elephants may be in the area, go to sleep peacefully and safely and know they’re gonna get an alert or the local authorities will get an alert,” says Davies.

As the elephant’s habitat shrinks, they’re running out of room to roam, destroying crops and damaging property.

Scientists hope to eventually deploy thousands of cameras to help the animals live in harmony with their neighbors.

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Scientists hope this technology could be used to help other endangered species like tigers in the future.