However, with a relatively small population, pandas are not yet out of the forest, or the bamboo forest.
Now conservationists hope smart technology can help safeguard the panda’s future.
To protect panda habitat, the “Digital Panda System,” developed in a joint venture between the Sichuan Forest and Grassland Administration and Chinese tech giant Huawei, was deployed in forests and grasslands in Sichuan province in February 2021. Instant reporting system helps detect forest fires. in hard-to-reach areas, alerting rangers and fire departments so they can quickly intervene, as well as monitor wildlife.
Meanwhile, another smart technology, facial recognition, could help identify individual pandas more accurately. To the human eye, all of their fur-covered faces look the same, but computer algorithms can tell the differences.
“Digital technology will play a bigger role in biodiversity (and) conservation in the future,” says Zhao Jian, a solutions expert at Huawei’s Sichuan office who oversaw the development of the Digital Panda System.
A “Digital Panda System”
The system collects data from 596 cameras, 45 infrared cameras, drones and satellites, which it stores in the cloud. Conservationists and researchers use this data to monitor, track, and study wildlife, as well as to spot wildfire hotspots.
Because the cameras are used in remote areas where there is little or no power supply, the system is solar-powered and uses microwave transmission, which requires no wires and is more reliable in complex terrain, Zhao says.
According to Huawei, the system supports 140,000 forest rangers, range managers, conservationists and researchers in Sichuan. In its first five months of operations, it detected 651 wildfire hotspots, reducing wildfires by 71.6% compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Huawei.
Zhao says that in the future, the Digital Panda System could be extended to sections of the national park that are in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, creating more “success stories” for other endangered species.
a growing population
While pandas are no longer endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), their population is still considered vulnerable and numbers in the wild have yet to recover to their pre-1980 level.
Now, smart technology offers “new tools and possibilities,” Hou says, and could help conservationists return even more pandas to the wild.
“My colleagues are working on protecting, restoring and monitoring their local habitats,” she says. “We are also exploring the reconstruction of giant pandas.”
Pick a panda from a lineup
Hou hopes smart technology can help solve a major daily challenge for researchers: identifying individual pandas.
“Even at the giant panda base, no one staff member knows all the individuals,” he says.
Currently, microchips are embedded in pandas’ necks to identify individuals, allowing researchers to track important health information such as vaccinations. But this method is invasive, requires the keeper to approach a card reader, and can interfere with the panda’s daily activities, Hou says.
“These tools will definitely help us do this (conservation) work better,” says Hou.