Face recognition software – new technology to transform conservation

I came across something cool today – LemurFaceID.

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A new facial recognition programme developed by Michigan State University has managed to correctly identity different lemurs through photographs of their faces with a staggering 98% accuracy.

Conservationists currently have to carry out their research by capturing wild animals by the use of tranquilizers and humane traps, and sticking microchips in them or attaching cumbersome tracking collars. This very rarely causes any lasting harm but it can – unsurprisingly – distress the animals in the short term. New technology is being utilized in various ways by conservation scientists – for examples, drones for following migratory species, GPS trackers for locating illegal poaches – to improve our knowledge and enable us to better protect endangered species.

Jain (the brains behind LemurFaceID) used a dataset of roughly 462 images of 80 red-bellied lemurs, taken in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, and 190 images of other lemur species to train a facial recognition system, called LemurFaceID. “Training” entails feeding image data through an algorithm that calculates variations between pixels. Each pixel is a string of 1s and 0s, so these algorithms yield mathematically unique patterns, or solutions, that distinguish a face, or a lemur, from one another.

Genius, huh?


5 interesting new species we discovered in 2016

It’s not all doom and gloom and the Sixth Mass Extinction – scientists have been discovering new species as well as pronouncing their imminent demist. As our knowledge and technology improves, researchers are able to access more and more remote areas and discover interesting species that are completely new to science – before it is too late. Here’s a round up of my favourites.

  • The Ziggy Stardust Snake – for good reason this is my favourite new species, and for good reason they named it after the late great Bowie’s alter personality Ziggy, with it’s striking iridescent rainbow head.


  • The Seadragon – OK, so I seem to be making a list of species with the coolest names. A relative of the seahorse, it has a long narrow body, with dorsal and pectoral fins.

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  • Harry Potter Sorting Hat Spider – again, the cool name theme. It was discovered in a mountainous region of south-west India and it mimics foliage to hide from predators

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  • Four-penised milipede – such a thing exists. 414 legs, 200 poison glands, 4 penises, and no eyes. So it goes.


  •  Klingon newt – one of 163 new species, along with the Ziggy snake, that were discovered in 2015 along the Mekong delta, a hugely ecologically diverse.

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6 reasons why the goldfinch is the best garden bird


  1. They look so regal. Like some kind of smartly dressed gent, dropping by for tea.
  2. They are delicate eaters. There’s just something so tender about the big, bulky short bill, carefully investigating the inside of the feeder. They can sit there for ages, not even flying off when the sparrows or blue tits join them on the other perch. They strike me as zen.
  3. Their song is a pretty twitter.
  4. Symbols of fertility. They often appear in artworks involved the Madonna and child, symbolizing fertility in the Italian Renaissance. This is because they often eat thistle seeds and teasles, so they are associated with Christ (the crown of thorns.)
  5. They’re the only birds visiting my garden that like niger seed. Actually, that should really count against them – niger seed is expensive.
  6. They flock in large groups. Walking around Cley marshes in Norfolk a few months ago, we were accompanied by a flock of roughly 20+ goldfinches for a few short thrilling minutes before they vanished.

Follow this link to the RSPB website for more info about the goldfinch. Make sure you listen to the audio!

Brexit is terrible, but….

… it might just save the British countryside by destroying our farming industry.

The European Union pays out €50bn of public money in farm subsidies; to qualify, the land must be kept bare. Consequently, hectare upon hectare of native forests and wildlife has been cleared to claim the funds.

George Monbiot suggests here that the area devoted to sheep grazing in the UK roughly equates to the amount of land used to produce all of our crops, yet lamb and mutton provide 1.2% of our diet. This production is clearly not worth the destruction it causes – and grazing sheep radically alters and erodes the landscape.

Nearly half of the average farmer’s income comes from EU subsidies, so it’s quite reasonable to believe small to medium farmers when they say they will go under without the subsidies. But why should public money fund such a destructive and unproductive industry?*

Monbiot suggests an alternative: we pay our farmers to be conservationists instead.

The only fair way of resolving this incipient crisis is to continue to provide public money, but only for the delivery of public goods – such as restoring ecosystems, preventing flooding downstream, and bringing children and adults back into contact with the living world. This should be accompanied by rules strong enough to ensure that farmers can no longer pollute our rivers, strip the soil from the land, wipe out pollinators and other wildlife, and destroy the features of the countryside with impunity.

*I’m talking in general terms – I know there are huge differences in types of farming in terms of productiveness, and sheep grazing is probably the most extreme example. Overall, it is just my opinion that mostly it does much more harm to wildlife than good.


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