Research in the Wild: AI, Leopards and Photobombs

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Our crew primarily works on leopards and different terrestrial mammals in protected areas and different forests of Karnataka. Our analysis focuses on establishing the baseline inhabitants of leopards in each forests and human-dominated landscapes, and additional monitoring the identical areas periodically to evaluate adjustments within the inhabitants.

We survey an space of curiosity utilizing camera-traps which seize photographs of wildlife with minimal intrusion. Digital camera-traps are remotely triggered, motion-sensing cameras that seize a photograph each time the infrared beam is lower both by an animal or an individual. They’re comparatively gentle, simple to make use of, and low-fuss on the sector as we needn’t carry a laptop computer simply to obtain information from every camera-trap. Every unit has a protected USB slot the place a pen drive might be inserted and we are able to immediately obtain the information onto the pen drive. Nonetheless, every unit does should be tethered firmly to a tree or a pole lest curious younger elephants tear them away throughout play, or poachers steal them. It’s attention-grabbing to notice that the unsuccessful events get captured on the very camera-traps they attempt to steal, or on the one put in proper reverse (which they miss recognizing).

Elephant calves are filled with curiosity and luxuriate in interacting with issues on the bottom that they will contact and really feel. This toddler is having an excellent time stripping the camera-trap away from the sapling it was tethered to.
Photograph Credit score: Sanjay Gubbi

We are able to simply programme the camera-traps for set off sensitivity and frequency of captures as per our requirement. The infrared sensor detects the movement of the animal thus, triggering the digital camera to seize a photograph. The standard of the images is ample to distinguish the patterns on animals similar to leopards and tigers which is what we’re primarily involved with. Nonetheless, we do take pleasure in our share of entertaining pictures of macaques posing for pond-side selfies, or dholes that resemble flying corgis.

We get a number of 1000’s of pictures from every research website which we initially used to manually kind and analyse relying on the species photographed. The trouble of sorting the images alone typically required an infinite quantity of handbook work, and often took us a number of months in a yr. Other than the massive quantity of assets it consumed, it was a hindrance to working in additional websites. With the leopard being a widespread species, working in a bigger variety of websites was essential to determine benchmark information for as many areas as doable. If we could not kind pictures from one website in a manageable body of time, how would we lengthen the research past?

dhole sanjay gubbi 800 Dhole

We photo-captured this dhole in the midst of a dash. We guarantee you, this isn’t a flying Corgi, nevertheless a lot it might resemble one.
Photograph Credit score: Sanjay Gubbi

Given the large-scale of knowledge and variety of pictures to sift by means of, we collaborated with Mr. Ramprasad, the previous chief technologist for AI at Wipro who helped design a programme that would do the picture sorting for us.

The software program makes use of a convolutional neural community (CNN), which is a framework that allows machine-learning algorithms to work collectively to analyse photographs. This sort of work falls underneath an interdisciplinary subject known as ‘pc imaginative and prescient’ which offers with coaching machines to determine and classify photographs very like a human would. The CNN classifier must be educated to acknowledge the options, colors, shapes, sizes, and distinctive patterns related to leopards and different animals. We fed 1000’s of photographs to coach the classifier to acknowledge leopards from our subject websites with a sure measure of accuracy.

Within the first stage of research, the software program helps us immensely by eradicating all of the ‘noise’ – all irrelevant photographs with out the goal wild animals, or these with people or livestock. Digital camera-traps are sometimes triggered by the slightest movement of even falling leaves, resulting in a big portion of the photographs being false captures. As an estimate from our largest website in 2018, out of a complete of two,99,364 photographs captured, solely about 6% (17,888) of the photographs obtained have been of mammals, with the remainder of the 94% being people, livestock, different species and false triggers.

leopard sanjay gubbi 800 leopard

Most pictures we get are of animals strolling by – half blurred or partial. This leopard was sort sufficient to sit down and pose for our camera-trap.
Photograph Credit score: Sanjay Gubbi

For the second stage, we educated the classifier to determine and segregate the animal photographs as per the mammalian species we give attention to. The classifier at present operates at an accuracy of round 90% for giant cat (leopards and tigers) identification. Its accuracy will go up by studying extra traits of these goal species as we feed extra pictures from comparable habitats into the software program. This accuracy is very helpful as many photographs we get hold of are partials with just some physique components, or with obscured patterns, at completely different angles, or captured at evening or in poor lighting. Presently, the accuracy of the classifier for sure distinct species similar to leopards, tigers, and porcupines is larger than different species similar to sambar deer, dhole, and so forth. We are able to treatment this by coaching it with extra and various photographs of those species.

So far, we have used this software program to kind by means of greater than 1.6 million pictures to determine 363 leopard people. With this software program, our workload has decreased from months to hours. The monumental effort we’d have in any other case put into sifting by means of these many photographs manually has been lower down vastly. To place into perspective, the classifier can course of as much as 60,000 photographs in almost half the time required by three researchers working full-time for 3 weeks, saving us numerous useful effort and time.

leopard and tiger sanjay gubbi 800 leopard and tiger

Tiger and leopard people might be differentiated primarily based on the distinctive patterns on their our bodies. Discover how the stripes differ among the many tigers alongside the flanks, stomach, undersides and the legs. The rosettes differ between the leopards within the shapes, and the way in which they’re clustered everywhere in the physique.
Photograph Credit score: Sanjay Gubbi

The ultimate step for us is to determine particular person leopards and tigers to estimate their inhabitants utilizing applicable statistical methodology. For animals which have marks or patterns on their physique just like the leopard or tiger, we are able to determine people by matching these marks or patterns as they’re distinctive to a person similar to fingerprints in people.

We examine the photographs of leopards and tigers which have been validated and extracted by the classifier by utilizing one other software program known as Wild-ID which pulls out photographs with comparable patterns for us to match. These automated matches do have some margin of error thus, we validate the ultimate set of photographs manually. Nonetheless, this software program nonetheless cuts down our effort of going by means of almost 900 photographs to determine round 70 people to seek out the preliminary matches. Wanting by means of a whole lot of photographs of patterned animals might be extraordinarily strenuous for the eyes, additional bringing within the possibilities of human error.

We’ve been working in direction of incorporating expertise and related software program into completely different features of our work, to chop down the handbook effort and get faster outcomes. The goal is to minimise error, maximise effectivity whereas additionally optimising the human-effort part that goes into implementing a analysis research on such a big scale.


Amrita Menon is considering conservation biology and inhabitants ecology. She is at present working as a analysis affiliate on the leopard conservation venture in Karnataka with the Western Ghats Programme at NCF.

Sanjay Gubbi is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on the conservation of enormous carnivores like tigers and leopards. He at present works as a Scientist and Programme Head with the Western Ghats Programme at Nature Conservation Basis.

Phalguni Ranjan is a marine biologist working as a science and conservation communicator with the Western Ghats Programme at NCF.

This collection is an initiative by the Nature Conservation Basis, underneath their programme Nature Communication to encourage nature content material in all Indian languages. Should you’re considering writing on nature and birds, please replenish this form.


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