Smart cameras help rangers monitor wildlife habitat
Yele Nature Reserve is a playground for wild giant pandas and other endangered animal species such as leopards.
Rangers in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province, have to ride motorcycles or horses when they patrol the deep forests of the mountainous area, but now they can monitor the wildlife habitat via high-definition wireless surveillance cameras.
They recently installed seven such cameras at exits and entrances of the nature reserve. Rangers can control the cameras from their office computers and even from their mobile phones, as they watch real-time videos transmitted through the network.
It’s part of the Giant Panda Habitat Monitoring and Restoration Demonstration Program in Sichuan province, launched jointly by computer hardware maker Seagate Technology, video-surveillance products supplier Hik vision and the World Wildlife Fund.
According to the State Forestry Administration of China, as of the end of 2013, the population of wild giant pandas in China was 1,864, 74.4 percent of which lived in Sichuan.
“When we protect the habitats of wild giant pandas, we’re actually protecting all flora and fauna in the ecological system. It’s also essential to increase interactions among different wild panda populations,” says Xu Qiang, director of WWF’s Chengdu office in Sichuan province.
“The surveillance cameras help us to monitor human interference day and night continuously in the vast area. It’s convenient and reduces our workload greatly to use technology that’s often used in the public space in cities,” says Hu Kang, director of management office of Yele Nature Reserve.
Hu says their main tasks are to manage and control grazing, gathering herbs, cutting trees and illegal hunting. These surveillance cameras can serve as a deterrent to offenders and obtain evidences of such crimes.
Yele Nature Reserve is adjacent to a township inhabited by the Yi ethnic group. The local villagers have become aware of wild animal and environment protection, and they rarely enter the conservation area.
“There are few human beings in a nature reserve. On this occasion, no news is good news,” Hu says.
If someone comes close to a panda, he adds, the camera will play a recording to say that he or she has just entered a nature reserve.
He says staff will first ask any visitors about their purpose. The core area of the nature reserve is not open to tourists, and those who come for scientific research or other work must have a permit.
Rangers can capture images of suspicious activity in the system and put offenders on a blacklist, so the face-recognition function will give a warning when they come again.
If someone covers an automobile plate so it’s unreadable, the system will warn the rangers. When they input a car’s plate number, they will get all images of the automobile so they can trace its route.
Hu says it takes seven or eight days for more than 20 rangers to patrol the entire reserve once a month. Patrols may be boring, but the rangers are happy to be maintaining the beauty of the green mountains and waters.
Although they have experienced hardships to protect wild giant pandas, they rarely bump into one because wild animals instinctively avoid human beings.
Since 2008, reserve rangers have worked with the WWF and set up about 40 infrared cameras in the woods to take photos automatically when a living creature passes by.
In 2010, one of the infrared cameras captured the first image of a wild panda in Liangshan prefecture. The last time that the nature reserve snapped an image of the black-and-white animal was last May, when it was marking its territory.
“Our aim is to protect wild giant pandas in a scientific way. Such new technology and ideas are important,” WWF’s Xu says.
“It’s more objective to measure work achievement via surveillance cameras. It’s good for data saving, too — otherwise, you will have to input into a computer the data that are originally recorded on piles of paper,” Xu says.
Inthe past, he says, the work was purely about human surveillance and patrol, which consume a lot of manpower. Plus, the findings were often affected by subjective factors such as the frequency of patrol and patrol routes.
He recalls that in the early 1990s, workers in forestry centers had simple aims— to protect forests and prevent forest fires and illegal hunting. In one center, a computer was like an ornament because they didn’t know how to use it at all. But now staff members are trained to use advanced technology at work.
“Protection of wild giant pandas has achieved initial success — they are now considered ‘vulnerable’ instead of endangered, but the animals and their habitats still face threats, such as habitat segmenting due to roadbuilding and other construction. It’s essential to get support from government departments, nature reserves, scientific research personnel and corporations.”
When we protect the habitats of wild giant pandas, we’re actually protecting all flora and fauna in the ecological system.” Xu Qiang, director of WWF’s Chengdu office
Infrared cameras capture images of a wild giant panda and a leopard in nature reserves in China.
Staff members check a surveillance camera at the entrance of Yele Nature Reserve in Sichuan.