NewsFace recognition for koalas in Australia

Face recognition for koalas in Australia

A research team in Australia is using artificial intelligence to protect the threatened koalas.

Button eyes, fluffy ears and a rounded, black nose – koalas have a striking appearance. Their typical facial features make the marsupials an ideal test object for “face recognition”: artificial intelligence (AI) for koalas.

A research team from Griffith University in Australia is currently working on an AI pilot project. Cameras are “trained” with facial recognition technology to recognize koalas. These devices are located near so-called green corridors – game bridges or tunnels that koalas and other animals use to safely cross roads. A total of 20 cameras are in use in Queensland for the project, equipped with motion sensors, solar panels and a wireless network module.

With the experiment, the researchers want to find out when and how often the Beutler use the crossings or tunnels that were built to reduce car accidents with wild animals. “In the past, cameras were also set up to monitor the koala corridors,” said the head of the study, Jun Zhou. “But each of the recorded videos had to be checked manually to see whether the animals were really koalas or other species.”

According to Zhou, every movement in the camera triggers a recording, which is then transmitted to a server at the university. Computer vision and machine learning systems process the images there. Koalas should be recognized automatically. The technology is now so powerful that it not only recognizes when a koala is using a corridor, but even which koala it was, said the researcher.

The university team intends to work closely with conservation groups such as the Koala Action Group or the Daisy Hill Koala Center. Experts from these organizations are expected to assist in training how to distinguish koalas from one another based on the animals’ appearance and movements.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to be able to further reduce car accidents with koalas. Because, according to Griffith University, these are still one of the main dangers for the Beutler. Between 1997 and 2018, an average of 356 koalas had to be treated in veterinary clinics after car accidents. The data will help the team understand how koalas use crossings and tunnels. In this way, measures to protect the baggers should be better adapted to their needs.

The Australian government has now also recognized that the animals need even more protection. At the end of November, she announced an aid package worth 18 million Australian dollars (a good eleven million euros). Part of this money goes into a kind of “census”, which is supposed to determine how many koalas are still living in Australia.

According to a WWF report, more than 60,000 koalas died in the bushfires around the turn of 2019/2020. Surviving animals perished in the following months as a result of trauma, smoke inhalation, heat stress, dehydration, lack of food or loss of habitat. The environmental organization estimates that more than 41,000 koalas were killed in South Australia’s natural paradise Kangaroo Island, more than 11,000 in Victoria, almost 8,000 in New South Wales and almost 900 in Queensland.

In these populous states in the east, infrastructure projects have also destroyed the animals’ living quarters. In addition, a Chlamydia infection decimates the tree dwellers, who become blind and sterile as a result of the disease. For some years now, climate change has also made life for koalas more difficult: Extreme temperatures and long droughts make the eucalyptus that the koalas eat harder and drier.

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