Simian survey in India to rely on face recognition for precise count

Monkeys eat peanuts thrown by commuters along a street on a cold winter day in New Delhi on January 24, 2022. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

A proposed census of the simian population in Delhi that will help tackle the monkey menace in the capital will likely use facial recognition technology so that the same monkey is not counted twice, officials claimed on Feb 21.

A fresh proposal to this effect has been prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and submitted by the Delhi forest and wildlife department to Gopal Rai, Delhi’s environment minister, for approval.

The department, in December asked WII to create a fresh plan. In 2019, a five-year plan to carry out a census was approved by the Delhi government and was due to start from April 2021.

The plan, which would have cost around 120mil rupees (RM6.73mil), was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and later scrapped.

“A fresh plan was sought from WII and this has now been shared with the environment minister for approval,” a forest department official said, requesting anonymity. “Once the cabinet clearance is received, it (the census) will be carried out for a period of one year, during which data will be gathered from different parts of Delhi, using assistance from the public too.”

The plan aims to use an app being developed by WII, which can be downloaded by the general public, to help count monkeys. “The app will be using a feature that will allow the software to recognise if the same monkey has already been counted or not,” the official claimed. “The general public can also, based on the features of the app, submit photographs of monkeys and contribute to the existing data, as well as alert us about areas where the monkey population is high.”

There are an estimated 25,000 monkeys in the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary alone, with any monkey caught in Delhi transported there, as per a 2017 Delhi high court order. The order also mandates the forest and wildlife department to feed the monkeys, a task that costs the department 800,000 rupees (RM44,874) every month.

The monkeys have been escaping from the sanctuary and moving to nearby urban areas, especially around south Delhi, creating a nuisance, residents complain.

A capture and recapture methodology could be utilised to record monkeys in a particular area, using a combination of camera shots that can first be analysed by a software, followed by expert analysis, said Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park.

“Unlike tigers, which have distinct patterns and face markings, monkeys can largely be differentiated based on their body size and facial features. Cameras can be put in different areas, possibly even feeding points, with several shots to be captured by a camera and the parameters to be assessed can be analysed by a software,” Khudsar said. – Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Tribune News Service

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