Tag Archives: Jane Goodall Institute

Facial Recognition: a new tool in great ape illegal trade investigations

PEGAS has identified and was until recently monitoring over 125 social media sites that have posted 315 individual great apes (a minimum number) either for sale or already purchased. In addition, PEGAS has visited zoos and safari parks in several Middle Eastern and eastern Asian countries that are exploiting hundreds of great apes commercially, ranging in age from infants to old adults. They act as fee-paying photo props with visitors, entertainment performers or as simple zoo attractions when they get older.

From sale online great apes are exploited for many commercial purposes

Photo props when young

Entertainer when a juvenile

Caged up when older, which can last 40 years

All of the great apes online and a high proportion of those seen in the zoos and safari parks were obtained illegally, many stolen from the wild. All of them have been moved from point A to point B, and many have been moved to point C and D and beyond, as they are bought and sold for various money-making purposes. These apes suffer tremendously in these callous moves, which are done in part to cover up the fact that they were imported illegally into the destination country by the first buyer. The second or third buyer can show sales records to the authorities, but when asked for CITES, Customs or veterinary import documents, they just say, “Go talk to the importer”. That’s where it usually stops, as the authorities do not have the time or resources to go find the importers.

If these great apes could be positively identified by some simple, non-invasive technology, that could be the breakthrough that wildlife trade investigators have been dreaming of. Identification using DNA or microchips has proven too difficult and expensive to carry out on a large scale. An ape facial photograph, akin to a police mug shot, could be the solution.

Wildlife dealers and owners post thousands of photos of great apes, most of them recurrences of the same ape. They are seen on multiple accounts as they are shared. It is not easy to determine if the same individual ape is posted on multiple accounts, unless the photos are identical duplicates. A facial recognition tool would enable the positive identification of each individual, as long as the face was showing at a good angle.

Are these the same or different chimps?

 

If we can positively identify an individual ape from its photo, it will be possible to track apes from seller to buyer online, and even from seller to buyer in zoos and safari parks, if the seller posted online the photo of that individual. It will also be possible to track movements of apes in zoos and safari parks, which may signal illegal arrivals, departures and replacements. This technology could even be used for prosecutions, depending on its accuracy.

Dr. Anil Jain, distinguished biometrics professor at Michigan State University, and his team modified their human facial recognition system to create LemurFaceID, the first computer facial recognition system that correctly identified more than 100 individual lemurs with 98.7 percent accuracy.

“Like humans, lemurs have unique facial characteristics that can be recognized by this system,” Jain said. “Once optimized, LemurFaceID can assist with long-term research of endangered species by providing a rapid, cost-effective and accurate method for identification.”

Dr. Jain and postgraduate student Debayan Deb have volunteered to adapt the LemurFaceID methodology to chimpanzee faces. If that proves successful, PEGAS hopes that they can repeat it with an orangutan face ID application in future.

PEGAS is now working with dedicated wildlife conservationist Alexandra Russo, who has generously volunteered to lead the development of the ChimpFaceID initiative. Using a more advanced method than was used with the lemurs, titled PrimNet, based on Convolution Neural Network (CNN) architecture, the Michigan State team will analyze and test their technology on hundreds of chimp face photos that we are now collecting in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute, members of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and others.

“I have brought together volunteers working at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, at Tchimpounga in the Congo, Tacugama in Sierra Leone and in the USA at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Washington State and Save the Chimps in Florida to provide the photos,” said Alexandra Russo, nicknamed Allie.

Allie went on to say, “The Max Planck Institute provided photos for an initial test of the PrimNet system, but it needs to be further tested and perfected to achieve a higher rate of correct identifications.”

Although still in its initial stages, several organizations have shown interest in PrimNet for use in illegal wildlife trade investigations and for monitoring of great ape population numbers and distribution in the wild. We hope to be able to present an exposition of the application’s potential as part of Bio-Bridge Initiative at the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November 2018.

If the PrimNet technology works to the high 90s percent accuracy, investigators might one day be able to track an infant ape captured in the forests of Africa or Asia to a dealer selling it online in the home country to a dealer in the destination country and even on to the buyer. The photos, along with other evidence gathered in the course of investigations, could be used to arrest and prosecute the dealers, facilitators and even the buyer.

One day we may be able to positively identify chimp faces at point of origin, to dealer, to buyer.

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Dr. Jane Goodall and KWS Director General visit Sweetwaters

Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall visited Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 14th July, accompanied by the Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr. Kitili Mbathi. When asked if she would be cold riding in the back of an open safari vehicle on the chilly morning, with characteristic pragmatism she replied, “I suppose I shall just have to be.”

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Dr. Jane Goodall and Mr. Kitili Mbathi, Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service, arrive on Ol Pejeta Conservancy on a plane chartered by PEGAS

In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall travelled from England to what is now Tanzania and courageously entered the extraordinary world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her resolute patience and optimism, she won the trust of these initially wary creatures, and she managed to open a window into their mysterious lives, finding surprising similarities with our own. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day. Her 1971 book, In the Shadow of Man, was an international best-seller.

Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share.

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), founded in 1977, works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where she first began her research 56 years ago, but also supports community-based conservation throughout East Africa and the Congo Basin, engaging with communities to win long-term conservation impact.

The Institute’s community-centred conservation programs in Africa include sustainable development projects that engage local people as true partners. These programmes began around Gombe in 1994, but they have since been replicated in other parts of the continent. Likewise, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which Jane started with a group of Tanzania students in 1991, is today the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program for young people from preschool through university with nearly 150,000 members in more than 130 countries.

Jane came to Nanyuki, where Ol Pejeta Conservancy is located, to speak at Mount Kenya Safari Club to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Kenya Roots & Shoots programme. PEGAS thought it offered an ideal opportunity for her to return to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, which was created in 1993 largely through her instigation, in cooperation with KWS and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The aim is to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The first chimpanzees to arrive were individuals that Jane had rescued from horrible conditions of captivity in Burundi.

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Jane looks at a photograph of herself and Uruhara, a chimpanzee that she rescued in Burundi more than 20 years ago, as they share a hoot.

After obtaining enthusiastic agreement from Ol Pejeta for Jane’s visit, PEGAS contacted Alpana Patel, JGI’s representative in Kenya (also a PEGAS Steering Committee member) for her views on the visit. Would the 81-year old world traveller have the stamina and desire to combine a day visit to Sweetwaters with an evening talk and fund-raiser at Mount Kenya Safari Club? After checking with Jane’s people in the USA, yes was the resounding answer.

Jane and Kitili Mbathi arrived from Nairobi on the PEGAS charter flight right on time, and off we drove across Ol Pejeta Conservancy to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, where the CEO Richard Vigne and other staff were waiting to welcome them.

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Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta, welcomes Jane and Kitili to the Sweetwaters sanctuary

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Jane poses with the Sweetwaters staff. Stephen Ngulu, veterinarian and Sweetwaters Manager on the left and Joseph Maiyo, head Caretaker, on the far right

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Jane advises Annick Mitchell, Ol Pejeta’s Tourism Manager, about how best to explain the mock termite mound. Dr. Goodall first revealed to the world that chimpanzees are also tool-users, using twigs to catch termites to eat

The first order of business was for Jane to open the new Education Centre at Sweetwaters, which provides informative graphics that instruct visitors about the threats to chimpanzee survival, including the capture of infants for the lucrative pet and entertainment industries.

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Jane opens the Education Centre with a celebratory chimpanzee hoot

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After a presentation on infant capture and trafficking, Jane asked, “How many chimpanzees are killed during these infant captures?”

I replied, “It’s estimated that 9 to 10 are killed for every infant captured.”

With a slight smile Jane remarked, “I always hear that number, but chimps are intelligent. When the shooting starts they just run away.”

She made her point, and I think some actual field research is in order on great ape poaching and capture.

For the next two hours we visited both chimpanzee groups, which live in large, fenced enclosures vegetated by natural savanna bushland on opposite sides of the Uaso Nyiro River. The river acts as a natural barrier to separate the two groups, as chimpanzees cannot swim.

Jane was anxious to see Uruhara, a chimpanzee she had rescued from Burundi more than 20 years ago (see the photograph above). When we found him and Jane offered him a banana she remarked, “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.” After a moment she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and added, “I think I’ve done a bit better.” I had to laugh and agree with her – she certainly had.

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Jane meets up with Uruhara after more than 20 years. “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.”

Encouraged by the many media journalists who had been attracted by Jane’s visit, she began expertly tossing bananas through the fence wires. Both to protect the chimpanzees from predators – there are about 70 lions and numerous leopards on Ol Pejeta – and to prevent their escape, the 250 acre sanctuary is enclosed by an electrified fence.

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Jane expertly tosses bananas through the fence wires

Jane requested some privacy from the media and other observers because she wanted a moment alone with the Sweetwaters caretakers. Some of these dedicated and professional staff have been with Sweetwaters since the beginning and Jane wanted to hear from them how the chimpanzees had been faring, what problems there might be, to hear stories of the individual chimpanzees that she had known from many years ago and to share her thoughts and observations with them. To take time out to do this demonstrates the thoughtfulness and care for others that this extraordinary woman has.

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Jane shares a private moment with the Sweetwaters sanctuary staff to talk about the chimpanzees

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Richard Vigne presented Jane with an honorary chimpanzee adoption kit

We then proceeded to visit the last three Northern White Rhinos left on the planet. Kitili Mbathi had yet to see them, so was particularly interested in finding out more about their situation. Attempts are being made to breed new offspring, but the single male, Sudan, is 43 and beyond mating capabilities – his age is equivalent to over 90 years for a human.

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Kitili Mbathi meets Sudan, the last male Northern White rhino on Earth

I was astounded to see Jane Goodall appear, she had walked the 300 metres or so from Morani’s restaurant, where we were to have lunch, under the hot sun to meet Sudan. The woman’s curiosity and energy know no bounds.

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Jane also meets Sudan, and gives him an affectionate rub

During lunch at Morani’s PEGAS had the opportunity to discuss the project and what we are trying to do and hope to achieve. Jane and Kitili were both very supportive and hopefully we can cooperate closely to achieve results in various planned actions in the near future.

It was an honour and great pleasure to host two such positive, outspoken and yet modest advocates for wildlife conservation at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

 

Jane Goodall Institute prepares architectural plans for Egypt

Great apes and monkeys have been seized – or not seized – on many occasions when detected at the Cairo International Airport in Egypt in illegal trade incidents. There has been a long-standing problem of what to do with primates that are caught being trafficked through the airport. This problem has been discussed within CITES, by the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and by GRASP. They all recommend that a new facility be constructed to hold seized great apes, and Egypt has pledged to do this.

Currently the Giza Zoo is designated as the only rescue centre in Egypt for seized apes and monkeys. But the Giza Zoo was built in Victorian times (1891 to be exact) and is not an appropriate place to hold trafficked primates, particularly if they are to be returned to their country of origin as Egyptian national law and CITES regulations call for.

PEGAS has been working with Egyptian government authorities, the Jane Goodall Institute, and Egyptian animal welfare activist Dina Zulfikar to establish the new rescue centre. JGI has kindly prepared a very professional set of architectural plans for the facility. We hope that the Egyptian government will use these plans to construct this much needed facility.

Architectural plans for a great ape and monkey rescue center in Egypt prepared by the Jane Goodall Instutute

Architectural plans for a great ape and monkey rescue center in Egypt prepared by the Jane Goodall Institute (click to download, file is more than 50 mb)