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Panda Updates – Friday, November 13

Last week, I wrote an update about how research has shown that giant pandas have the ability to distinguish between even very subtly different eye markings, and so may be using those black patches around their eyes as unique “fingerprints” to identify each other. Since then, I have had some other really cool research shared with me. 

Researchers working in tandem with our partners in giant panda conservation, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, have developed an app that puts facial recognition technology to work on giant pandas! They created an algorithm based on 163 photos of 28 giant pandas living at Chengdu. Interestingly, the app currently cannot identify whether something is a giant panda face, but once it knows that’s what it’s looking at, it is able to tell the difference between two individual panda faces. It even works if the giant panda’s face is turned away from the camera a little, or if the panda is eating.  

The most exciting part of this comes when considering its practical applications. There are many camera traps set up in the giant pandas’ natural habitat in the wild in China. Scientists analyzing footage from those cameras will be able to take a still shot of the face of a giant panda who has walked by their camera trap and, using this app, compare it to the other wild giant panda face pictures they have been able to obtain with camera traps. That will give them a better estimate of how many individuals are inhabiting the areas they are studying, and better inform population management decisions. 

There’s also a fun, not-as-scientific application for this program as well. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has said they are going to make it possible for their visitors to use the app to identify the many giant pandas that live at their center! You probably won’t need the app at Zoo Atlanta, though — our four giant pandas are pretty easy to tell apart, and our wonderful Education Guides are always happy to help if you aren’t sure!

Matkowski, Wojciech Michal, et al. “Giant Panda Face Recognition Using Small Dataset.” 2019 IEEE International Conference on Image Processing (ICIP), Sept. 2019,, 10.1109/icip.2019.8803125. Accessed 10 Nov. 2020. 

Michelle E.
Keeper III, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl