If each animal could be photographed and uniquely identified many times each day, the science of ecology and population biology, together with the resource management, biodiversity, and conservation decisions that depend on this science, could be dramatically improved.


IBEIS is a large autonomous computational system that starts from image collections and progresses all the way to answering ecological and conservation queries, such as population sizes, species distributions and interactions, and movement patterns. The images are taken by field scientists, tourists, and incidental photographers, and are gathered from camera traps and autonomous vehicles. IBEIS can detect various species of animals in those images and identify individual animals of most striped, spotted, wrinkled or notched species. It stores the information about who the animals are, where they are and when they are there in a database and provides query tools to that data for scientists and curious people to find out what those animals are doing and why they are doing it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

IBEIS Moves to Lewa

In mid-January we returned to Kenya to install the first full end-to-end prototype of the IBEIS software system, this time at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which is just a bit north of Nanyuki.  The new version of the prototype includes an updated version of Wildbook as the back-end data management system.  (Marco and Clara had moved the powerful compute server up to Lewa last autumn.)  In addition to the usual efforts of working out kinks in the software, a major task was to integrate IBEIS into the workflow of the Lewa science team.  They already were using software called CyberTracker on their smart phones to record “metadata” about the sightings of each group of animals.  This is fed into a “SMART” database.  We figured out how to get data about where the animals were seen from SMART and combine it with the actual photos for input to IBEIS!  This is the start of something big!

Our initial target species at Lewa is Grevy’s zebras.  By doing a few new image collection runs during testing and training, and also by importing image sets from the 2nd half of 2014, our combined Lewa/IBEIS team managed to build a database of nearly 300 animals before we IBEISers had to leave.  In the next few months we plan to continue to upgrade the software, expand the use of IBEIS for Grevy’s zebras to Mpala and other conservancies in the Laikipia region, work closely with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, and incorporate other species into the system.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Training the Technicians

On Monday we started to train some of Dan's Kenyan technicians who will be using IBEIS.  

Left to right: Clara Machogu, Margaret Mwangi, Joseph Mwangi,
 Marco Maggioni, Rosemary Warungu, Jason Parham

Even though the current version is just the start - and the back-end Wildbook database isn't quite ready for integration - releasing the software for daily use represents both an accomplishment and a challenge.  The accomplishment is that even though we are really just starting the project, we already have a useful product.  The challenge is that the outcome of the PhD-level computer science research we will do on this project will immediately impact the utility of IBEIS and the
work by technicians "on the ground".  The trick will be to use this near-immediate application of our results to inspire us while not limiting the intellectual risk-taking that is sometimes needed to produce important innovations.

The Drop in Safari Tourism

The safari business in Kenya is hurting from travel warnings and the resulting cancellations this summer tourist season triggered by the publicity over the attack at the coast.  To paraphrase what Jason P pointed out, this is like canceling a trip to the rural midwest US following a (hypothetical, of course!) attack at Atlantic City, NJ.  My octogenarian mother called me before the trip to reconfirm the location of our work.  She then simply told me to stay alert and have a good trip.  Others should be as sensible.

We felt the impact of the drop in tourism when we stopped at our  favorite curio shop on the way back to Nairobi.  Unlike our earlier visit, they seemed almost desperate for our business.  We didn't have the heart to push extra hard on the prices during our negotiations.  Still we are heading home with some beautiful "stuff".

More Poaching!!

On Thursday evening an 8 year old black rhino on Ol Pejeta was shot by poachers. She survived at least initially, but was separated from her one-month old baby who was attacked and eaten by lions. Later that day or early the next the new mother rhino died.

When we drove though Ol Pejeta Friday morning, we watched low flying planes and then saw a helicopter at conservancy headquarters.  We did not know what had happened until later.  The senseless attack, driven by someone's false notion of an aphrodisiac, is a complete waste. Even though the IBEIS project does not contribute directly (at least not at this point) to the anti-poaching efforts, the recent killings of rhinos Ol Pejeta and nearby Ol Jogi (a few days before we arrived) added a sense of immediacy to the problems Kenya and other nearby countries face in their conservation efforts.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Connections made in Kenya

Yesterday was a nice and special day: Clara and Marco had an engagement party. They met during the Field Computational Ecology course in 2012. Marco is a PhD student at University of Illinois and (as we have mentioned) has built the server and is the main systems person of the IBEIS project. Clara is a recent Masters graduate from the University of Nairobi and is now the IBEIS project representative in Kenya. Jackson, one of the Mpala drivers, negotiated to buy a goat, brought it to Githae (Mpala ranch house cook) who slaughtered and grilled it. There was maize, salad, pasta, cheese bread, super spice salsa, and... GOAT (nyama choma)! We had the feast at the ranch house, a beautiful relaxing afternoon. Congratulations, Clara and Marco!

And then it rained. The crew had to get back to Ol Pej and Blair did a sisyphean job of driving everybody back in the rain over clay roads that when wet instantly become trecherous ice skating ditches. 20km can take over 2 hours!

July 2014 Ol Pejeta IBEIS Team

Here is the team:

Left to right: Marco Maggioni, Kaia Tombak, Clara Machogu, Jon Crall,
 Blair Roberts, Mike Costelloe, Dan Rubenstein, Jon Van Oast, Jason Parham,
Chuck Stewart, Tanya Berger-Wolf

Challenges of Working in the Bush

Scarce power, periodic internet outages, slow internet when there is, neither power nor internet at night, and lots of sharing when there is power...

Yet, somehow things are getting done.  Go team!