A joint team from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Princeton University has combined technology, biology and conservationism in a cool new open source app called StripeSpotter that identifies zebras by scanning their stripes in a way that’s similar to a supermarket barcode reader.
The system itself uses image recognition algorithms on photographs taken in the field. It’s efficient – written in C++ with plain text csv data storage. They also capture GPS coordinates – presumably with the camera/phone that captures the photographs or separately with a separate GPS device. The basic requirements to start using StripeSpotter are a digital camera and laptop – take a photo, load it on to the laptop and run the StripeSpotter application. Seems like it would be a logical next step to make this a mobile device app so that game wardens can photograph and identify zebras right on the spot and thereafter sync up to a shared server to distribute the tagging work – crowdsource, if you will.
The team is currently compiling a database of Plains and Grevys zebra here in Kenya. The technology has the potential to be used by other striped animals eg tigers, and other animals with distinguishing markings eg leopards and giraffes.