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Facial recognition could spot illegal pet lemurs

A new computer facial recognition system can correctly identify over 100 lemurs with 98.7 percent accuracy.

Facial recognition is usually used to find criminals, identify passport and driver’s license fraud, and catch shoplifters, but it could also spot endangered lemurs in the jungles of Madagascar, says Anil Jain, biometrics expert and professor at Michigan State University.

“Like humans, lemurs have unique facial characteristics that can be recognized by this system,” Jain says. “Once optimized, LemurFaceID can assist with long-term research of endangered species by providing a rapid, cost-effective, and accurate method for identification.”

gif of lemur faces

Jain used 462 images of 80 red-bellied lemurs and 190 images of other lemur species to create the dataset for the facial recognition system. Study coauthors Rachel Jacobs of George Washington University and Stacey Tecot of the University of Arizona took many of the photos in Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar.

For short-term studies of lemurs, researchers often rely on “soft” identifiers to recognize individual lemurs, such as differences in body size and shape or the presence of injuries and scars. However, relying on variations in appearance can make it difficult for different researchers studying lemurs to identify the same lemur over time. This means there are few long-term studies of lemur populations.

Paper wasps with lying faces get beat up

“Studying lemur individuals and populations over long periods of time provides crucial data on how long individuals live in the wild, how frequently they reproduce, as well as rates of infant and juvenile mortality, and ultimately population growth and decline,” Tecot says. “Using LemurFaceID can inform conservation strategies for lemurs, a highly endangered group of mammals.”

LemurFaceID also provides a more humane, noninvasive way to identify lemurs. “Capture and collar” methods are commonly used to identify wild lemurs but these methods can cause injury or stress and are costly because of veterinary services and anesthesia.

LemurFaceID also could be useful for other forms of animal conservation. Lemurs, among many other endangered animals, are illegally captured and kept as pets. LemurFaceID could provide law enforcement, tourists, and researchers with a tool to rapidly report sightings and identify captive lemurs, which would help with conservation efforts.

In addition, Jain believes LemurFaceID could be used to identify other primate and non-primate species with variable facial hair and skin patterns, such as bears, red pandas, raccoons, or sloths. Doing so may assist conservation of the world’s primates, half of which face extinction.

“Facial recognition technology has the potential to help safeguard our society,” Jain says. “Adapting it to help save endangered species is one of its most inspiring uses.”

This paper appears in the journal BMC Zoology.

Source: Michigan State University

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