Many of us think of facial recognition software as something that may be potentially invasive to our privacy; however researchers are now using it for a bit of good by tweaking it to help save endangered lemurs. 

A team, led by Anil Jain at Michigan State University, has developed a new software known as LemurFaceID. At the moment, it can recognize more than 100 individual lemurs with an astounding 98.7% accuracy rate.

Previously, in order to study lemurs in the wild, researchers had to rely on their own identification methods that may not be 100% accurate. This could include noting down body or face shape of the lemur, but that doesn’t mean they can be positive they are even looking at the same one each time.

Long-term studies of populations in the past, where it was necessary for researchers to be absolutely sure they were looking at the same lemurs over time, many used methods that involved catching them and having to collar them. This not only disturbed their natural habitats, but often times contributed to increased stress amongst the lemurs themselves. LemurFaceID provides a much less invasive way to keep track of them.

They also hope the identification process can help keep track of lemurs that have been kidnapped and trafficked for profit.

Stacey Tecot from the University of Arizona, who took part in taking pictures of some of the lemurs for the pilot of LemurFaceID explains why it is important to positively identify the same lemurs over time:

“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.”

According to EurkAlert, lemurs were named the world’s most endangered mammal in 2012, and 24 of the 111 lemur species are critically endangered. It is the team’s hope that this collaborative effort will help not only lemurs, but the technology can be used to help track and conserve other animals in danger of extinction.

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