Smart technology helps save giant pandas in China

However, with a relatively small population, pandas have not yet emerged from the forest or the bamboo forest.

The biggest threat to the wild panda population is habitat loss. Its reliance on bamboo for food has made the species particularly vulnerable to environmental change, and China’s rapid urban development over the past century has pushed pandas into extinction. part of their historical range. And while around 54% of its wild habitat protected, these areas are still vulnerable to natural disasters such as wildfires.

Now, conservationists are hoping that smart technology will help protect the panda’s future.

In February 2021, the “Digital Panda System” was deployed in the forests and grasslands of Sichuan Province to protect the habitat of pandas, developed by a joint venture between the Sichuan Forest and Rangeland Administration and Chinese tech giant Huawei. An instant warning system helps detect forest fires. in hard-to-reach places, alerting rangers and firefighters so they can intervene quickly, as well as observing wildlife.

Meanwhile, another smart technology — facial recognition — could help identify individual pandas more accurately. To the human eye, all of their furry faces look the same, but computer algorithms can tell the difference.

“Digital technology will play a more important role in conservation (and) biodiversity in the future,” says Zhao Jian, a solution expert at Huawei’s Sichuan office who oversaw the development of the Digital Panda system.

“Panda Digital System”

The system collects data from 596 cameras, 45 infrared cameras, drones and satellites and saves it in the cloud. Conservationists and researchers use this data to monitor, track and study wildlife, and to locate wildfires.

Since the cameras are used in remote areas where power supply is weak or non-existent, Zhao said, the system is powered by solar power and uses microwave transmission, which does not require cables and is more reliable in difficult terrain.

According to Huawei, the system is helping 140,000 forest rangers, pasture managers, conservationists and researchers in Sichuan province. It detected 651 wildfire hotspots in its first five months of operation, according to Huawei, reducing the number of wildfires by 71.6% compared to the same period of the previous year.

Despite its name, the Digital Panda system doesn’t just protect pandas, Zhao said. The system covers the Sichuan part of the newly created Giant Panda National Park – an area of ​​almost 10,500 square miles which connects 67 nature reserves in three provinces. The park is home to China. 1800 wild pandas — along with further 8000 species of animals and plantsincluding endangered animals such as red pandas and golden snub-nosed monkeys.
The new Giant Panda National Park is also expected to benefit other endangered species such as the golden snub-nosed monkey (pictured).

Zhao says that in the future, the Digital Panda system could be extended to areas of the national park located in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, creating more “success stories” for other endangered species.

Growing population

Although pandas are no longer endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), their population is still considered vulnerable, and numbers in the wild have not yet recovered to pre-1980 levels.

But captive breeding efforts can help increase the population. The Chengdu panda base in Sichuan has been a leader in panda conservation and breeding since its opening in 1987, with only six sick and starving pandas. Now the base is home to more than 200 pandasand thanks to partnerships with other zoos and reserves, the global captive population stood at 673 in October 2021, says Hou Rong, deputy director of the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.

This video shows how the Digital Panda system captured a wild panda for the first time in August 2021. Credit: Sichuan Giant Panda National Park Administration, Sichuan Provincial Forestry and Grassland Administration, and Huawei.

Technologies such as ECO played a vital role in efforts to increase the number of pandas, while GPS was used to track and control several captive pandas released into the wild.

Now, smart technologies offer “new tools and opportunities,” Howe says, and could help conservationists bring even more pandas back to their natural habitat.

“My colleagues are working to protect, restore and monitor their local habitat,” she says. “We are also exploring the possibility of rebuilding giant pandas.”

Choosing a panda from the line

Howe hopes the smart technology will help researchers solve a major daily challenge: identifying individual pandas.

“Even at the giant panda base, no employee knows all the people,” she says.

Currently, microchips are being implanted in pandas’ necks to identify people, allowing researchers to track vital health information such as vaccinations. But the method is invasive, requires the caregiver to get close to the card reader, and can interfere with the panda’s daily activities, Howe says.

Howe worked with the team for five years to develop a facial recognition system for pandas. The algorithm has been tested and refined using a database of over 6400 images 218 pandas captive.
Conservationists are hoping smart technology will provide a more accurate picture of wild panda populations.
Each panda has a unique facial structure and hair pattern, says Pranjal Swarup, co-author of the study. panda face recognition research. “(We) are not able to recognize and remember finer facial features even in humans,” says Swarup. But for computers, which can pick up small differences and convert them into a numerical system, recognizing individual pandas is much easier, he adds.
Facial recognition could help researchers build a more accurate picture of panda abundance in the wild, Swarup said. At present, population surveys, which have been conducted every decade since 1974, are carried out on foot. last in 2014 with the participation of 2000 people surveying 4.36 million hectares of land in three years.

“These tools will definitely help us do this (security) job better,” Howe says.

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