China says it’s created a facial recognition app for pandas

China loans its pandas to select partner countries in what is known as “panda diplomacy.”
China loans its pandas to select partner countries in what is known as “panda diplomacy.”
Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake
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Researchers from the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas have developed an app that could recognize individual pandas using facial recognition technology, the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday (May 17).

The app will draw from more than 120,000 pictures and 10,000 videos of giant pandas to identify the animals.

According to a 2014 census conducted by the Chinese government, there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas left in the wild, and they live in three provinces in western China. The country has taken a proactive role in conservation efforts, announcing last year that it would build a 10,476-square-mile panda reserve called the Giant Panda National Park at a cost of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion).

Presumably, recognizing individual animals will help conservationists keep track of how many pandas are left and see whether their efforts to encourage breeding are paying off. Chen Peng, a researcher at the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas, told Xinhua: “The app and database will help us gather more precise and well-rounded data on the population, distribution, ages, gender ratio, birth and deaths of wild pandas, who live in deep mountains and are hard to track.”

This is not the first time facial recognition technology has been used on animals. According to The Telegraph, American and Italian companies have developed software that can match photos of lost pets to those in shelters and tell cats apart from similar felines. But the issue is a sensitive one in China, a global leader in facial recognition, where the government has used the technology to persecute Uyghurs in Xinjiang and to spy on its own people.