Lions papped using facial recognition software

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In the last half a century there has been a 50% population decline in African lions, a huge driver of this has been the dramatic rise of human populations which as well as bringing humans and lions into contact more frequently, increasing conflict, has also led to an 80% loss of the lions natural habitat. A recently launched facial recognition software is set to give some new insights to help conserve this magnificent creature.

'LINC uses a custom web interface that allows conservationists to search, organize, access and share lion data stored in a central database.'

‘LINC uses a custom web interface that allows conservationists to search, organize, access and share lion data stored in a central database.’

The project known as the Lion Identification Network of Collaborators (LINC) is a crowd-funded initiative set up by the Kenyan based Lion Guardians, a conservation organisation aiming to combine scientifically driven research with community participation. Using an open database and the latest computer vision techniques the software scans facial features and then matches these to an individual lion from an existing pool of profiles.

With less than 30,000 lions thought to live in the wild, examining dispersal and migration patterns helps us monitor population levels and connectivity between populations. Seeing where individuals are travelling at different times can give us a better understanding of where to focus conservation efforts, particularly in the case of male lions who can travel vast distances. Traditional tracking methods such as GPS tracking are expensive and require sedating an animal to attach a collar which then has to be changed every few years.

A key mission of this project is to encourage collaboration; data can be shared across research initiatives and using an open source software means the code can be modified and enhanced. The beauty of this software is usable pictures can taken from as far away as 100 feet, reducing the lions exposure to humans, as well as this the more photos that are uploaded the more accurate the software will become.

Little is currently known about lion movements and this technology is hoped to change that. Having a broad scale understanding of lion populations especially those that seem isolated can give us a better view into the genetic viability and range of lions. The IUCN lists lions as vulnerable and the more information we have about their behaviour the more tools at our disposal to protect these big cats.

Each lion has distinctive facial features that can be used to tell individuals apart. Photo credit: Lion Guardians

Each lion has distinctive facial features used to tell individuals apart.
Photo credit: Lion Guardians

For more information check out the LINC website and the Lion Guardians.

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Madeleine Berry

Wildlife enthusiast and recent Biology graduate of Queen Mary, University of London.

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