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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Conservationists use AI to spot rare, wild jaguars in Yucatán

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Electronic monitoring helps a team of nature conservation experts using Huawei Cloud and artificial intelligence to identify at least five jaguars in a nature reserve in Dzilam, Yucatán. Photo: Courtesy

With the help of Huawei Cloud and artificial intelligence, they have identified at least five previously unseen jaguars in a nature reserve in Dzilam, Yucatán.

The Tech4Nature Mexico project, launched last year in the Dzilam de Bravo nature reserve, analyzes images and sound data to identify and track jaguars and their prey, a team of nature conservation experts announced.

The project involves partners including the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Polytechnic University of Yucatán, C Minds’ AI for Climate initiative, Rainforest Connection, the local community, and state government authorities. China-based Huawei supplied the capabilities of Huawei Cloud to the project.

The team has collected more than 30,000 photos, 550,000 audio recordings, and numerous video clips of wild animals. This data trove provides deep insights into local wildlife to researchers and contributes to the preservation and promotion of Yucatán’s biodiversity. The data is processed on the ModelArts AI Platform from Huawei Cloud and Rainforest Connection’s Arbimon AI platform.

“The first thing we discovered was that it was difficult to convince someone to invest in conservation,” said Sayda Rodriguez Gomez, secretary of sustainable development of Yucatán. “If people don’t know there are these animals, they don’t help us.”

The team identified 119 species, including 88 birds, 22 mammals, five reptiles, and four amphibians, of which 34 species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Prior to the project, local experts didn’t know whether the reserve was home to jaguars and, if so, how many there were.

“We need to upload the data to a Big Data platform because it is a high volume of information,” says Joaquin Saldana, director of strategic marketing at Huawei Latin America. “We need to process it at high speed and with artificial intelligence. Then start to understand the pictures and be able to detect the animals that interest us.”

The team is now working to develop algorithms enabling individual identification of jaguars, which will be fundamental to figuring out how many jaguars live in the region.

“We are setting the basis for a state-wide biodiversity monitoring platform with AI on the Huawei Cloud,” says Regina Cervera, a project coordinator at the innovation agency C Minds. “Our umbrella species is the jaguar because if we make sure to protect it, then we protect everything that surrounds them. What we are doing is a huge and pioneering step for decision-making for conservation and nature-based solutions.”

Ecologists estimate that around 4,000 to 5,000 jaguars live in the wild in Mexico. More than half of them live in the Yucatán Peninsula, making it one of the primary regions for their conservation. But their existence is threatened by illegal hunting, deforestation, and climate change.

Protecting the jaguar means a lot to local communities. Juan Castillo, a community leader in the Dzilam de Bravo Reserve, says that he has heard about the jaguars ever since he was young. In Mexico, the number of jaguars is now growing, increasing to 4,766 animals in 2018 from 4,025 in 2010, a promising sign that conservation strategies are working.

“All this is jaguar land,” Juan Castillo said. “Since I was a child, I liked knowing that it is part of us. Sometimes what I say makes people laugh: the day I die, I would like to be a jaguar. I hope there is still a way to take care of them because tomorrow, we will only be seeing them in books.”

With information from Huawei

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