Automatically spotting endangered chimpanzee nests by drone

Congrats to our friends at Conservation Drones, whose collaboration with International Union for Conservation for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Liverpool John Moores University on using computer vision to spot chimpanzee nests from the air (using APM-powered drones) has now been published in the American Journal for Primatology.  Counting nests is easier and less disruptive than counting the chimpanzees themselves. The primates build new nests each night and the nests are visible for about a month before they deteriorate, so it's pretty easy to use such nest counts to derive a population estimate. 

From Gizmag:

As their population has plummeted in the last two or three decades, the International Union for Conservation for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has come to class chimpanzees as endangered. Monitoring where they live deep in the tropical forests of Africa is critical, as it allows conservationists to detect changes in these tiny populations and identify when they might be becoming dangerously low.

Such monitoring has traditionally required expensive and time-consuming ground surveys, as researchers spend hours traipsing the terrain by foot and counting nests. And because the animals often build these nests beneath the canopy, there was an degree of skepticism as to whether aerial surveying would work.

But a new study carried out by researchers from the IUCN and Liverpool John Moores University has demonstrated that these domiciles can be picked out by drone. The researchers used low-cost drones to snap a large number of photos in a 20-minute flight over an area that would otherwise have taken ground surveyors hours to cover. In viewing the images the researchers were able to detect nests, demonstrating a new technique that could save conservationists time and money.

"The results of this study show that drones can be a new tool to determine faster whether chimpanzees are present in a certain area," says Alexander van Andel from the IUCN and one of the study's co-authors. "In addition the study shows that habitat suitability can be determined by drones by identifying tree species which are important in the chimpanzee diet."

The research was published in the journal American Journal for Primatology.

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Comment by Fnoop on July 26, 2015 at 1:23am

Really interesting work.  Shame nobody can read about it unless you want to support the continued suppression of science by commercial publishers.  Something submitted to the likes of plosone would have been great.

Comment by Stanley Anak Suab on July 28, 2015 at 2:11am

Great work! Im interested to have this computer vision for tree canopy recognition and delineation.  

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