Increasingly, conservation efforts are leaning on advancing technology. The latest advance is AI assisted deer tracking which is expected to help continue Nepal’s so far successful efforts to boost its tiger population.
Mongabay said improved deer tracking is critical as Nepalese tigers (Panthera tigris) eat spotted deer (Axis axis) about every other meal. According to Britannica the deer stand about 3 feet tall and live in herds of up to 100. They weigh about 150 pounds, and are also known as chital or Axis deer.
The deer gather in large herds and resemble other deer, That makes counting and monitoring them difficult. That is expected to change soon, according to Mongabay:
“All that could change soon as researchers use vertical cameras — so the spots are visible — and the power of artificial intelligence to profile individual chittal based on their spots in Nepal’s Bardiya National Park, just like individual tigers are profiled based on patterns in their fur.
A team of researchers from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands has been collecting vertical camera images of chittal and using an algorithm to count them based on the unique spots found in their pelt.
“The horizontal cameras are primarily used to count tigers in Nepal,” said JF de Jong, lecturer at the Wildlife Ecology & Conservation Group of Wageningen University, part of the team working on the project launched in 2019. “They are good at counting tigers based on their limited number, say a few hundred, but counting thousands of spotted deer is a different story.”
The vertical cameras take images continuously, and technicians replace the memory cards every month. The images are then uploaded to a web platform specializing in organization of wildlife camera trap images and analyzed using an algorithm.”
But difficulties remain. The algorithm is not precise yet. It has difficulty identifying individual deer. When the problems are solved deer tracking is expected to be a powerful tool. It will help track predator and prey and guide management decisions.
Nepal has had good success with tiger conservation. The world wide goal of doubling the wild tiger population has not been met.Nepal, India and Bhutan are among the few tiger habitat countries to report success. Meanwhile, technology is coming to the aid of Sumatra’s threatened tigers. DNA is being used to identify individuals and track and protect them.