Panda watch

Smart cam­eras help rangers mon­i­tor wildlife habi­tat

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at xulin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

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.

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