Humans aren’t the only primate with a use for facial recognition software: Saving lemurs with technology


posted Monday, February 20, 2017 at 7:00 AM EDT


You have surely heard of facial recognition technology, it is becoming more prevalent in a variety of photography software, but have you heard of facial recognition for lemurs? Biologists and computer scientists have teamed up to create LemurFaceID, a facial recognition system that allows identification of individual lemurs, which may ultimately help the conservation efforts for the adorable mammals from Madagascar.

Biometrics expert Anil Jain worked on the software and spoke with about LemurFaceID, “"Like humans, lemurs have unique facial characteristics that can be recognized by this system. Once optimized, LemurFaceID can assist with long-term research of endangered species by providing a rapid, cost-effective and accurate method for identification." Jain created the facial recognition system’s dataset using 462 images of 80 different red-bellied lemurs and nearly 200 images of other lemur species. Many of the photos were captured in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park by study co-authors Rachel Jacobs from George Washington University and Stacey Tecot from the University of Arizona.

Some of the photos used to create the dataset for LemurFaceID

Typically, lemurs have been identified using “soft” identifiers, such as body size, shape and scars, but these are very difficult to rely on for accurate identification when studying lemurs over long periods of time. Accurate identification is critical for long-term studies because that’s the only way to ensure accurate data on population over time. Tecot remarks, “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. Using LemurFaceID can inform conservation strategies for lemurs, a highly endangered group of mammals." 

The software has not yet been fully tested in the wild, but scientists are hopeful that LemurFaceID will not only be useful in aiding conservation efforts, but will help save lemurs from the stresses of invasive identification. Lemurs are teetering on the brink of extinction and if biologists and other scientists can leverage facial recognition technology to help save them, then that is an incredibly worthwhile use of photography and technology.

(Seen via The Verge. Index image: © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0. This image has been cropped and resized.)