The Novel Way China Is Using Tech To Protect Pandas

Giant pandas are some of the most recognizable creatures with their adorable, fuzzy, black and white faces. However, telling them apart from one another is a different story. In China, researchers at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding have found a way to use AI to tell us who is who (via NBC News). The goal of the project isn't just so humans can keep up with their names, either — this software will also allow researchers to monitor and protect the pandas both in sanctuaries and in the wild.

According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, around 600 pandas live in captivity and less than 2,000 remain in the wild. This makes tracking them an important part of conservation efforts to prevent the species from going extinct. By being able to tell which panda is which, researchers can track how each panda is doing and make decisions based on the info they are given. Facial recognition software is already widely used in China, so applying it to giant pandas isn't as far-fetched as it might seem (via The Washington Post). 

Researchers have collected images from over 600 pandas

In order to make sure that the AI facial recognition software worked on giant pandas, researchers had to go through a lot of effort. Because of their plump, furry faces, these pandas lack distinguishable facial features that would allow the software to easily tell them apart. According to NBC News, over 200,000 images have been collected from over 600 pandas in order to improve the AI of the recognition software.

One of the most exciting parts of the improved facial recognition software at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is that visitors can also tap into the technology. According to The Washington Post, visitors can use an app to identify giant pandas at the facility and learn more about them. This interactive aspect makes learning about the pandas more fun for visitors, and the research team behind it hopes that it will spark the interest of scientists who track pandas in the wild (via The Verge).

Conservation efforts are important for ensuring pandas don't go extinct

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding's improved facial recognition software is just part of the conservation efforts being made to save the giant panda. According to the IUCN Red List, the giant panda is a vulnerable species, meaning it has a great risk of becoming endangered. Luckily, efforts to increase the giant panda population have already made a positive impact, with the IUCN reporting that the number of giant pandas both in captivity and in the wild is increasing.

According to China Highlights, the country is currently protecting the giant panda in several ways. This includes 13 nature reserves where pandas can thrive and breeding programs aimed at increasing the wild population. Additionally, China occasionally gifts and leases out giant pandas to other countries like the United States, where they serve as an educational opportunity to increase the general population's awareness of their vulnerable status (via History).