And it’s a darned good thing, too. Pattern recognition software developed by Lex Hiby of Conservation Research that maps tigers’ stripes is being used to identify and track endangered tigers that live in Asian forests. Remote camera traps in the region capture images of the tigers, which are then uploaded, mapped, compared to existing images, and archived for future reference.
The free downloadable software fits a 3D surface model of a tiger to each new image and scans the stripe pattern on a predefined region of the model, so that the resulting pattern sample is largely unaffected by camera angle and body posture. A pattern comparison algorithm then calculates similarity scores between the new and existing pattern samples. Scanning the pattern via a three-dimensional model, in effect, unwraps it from the curved surface of the tiger’s flank.
Although the software is being used to track individual tigers as they roam the forests, it was originally developed to identify tiger pelts seized by the authorities. Hiby notes that if all images of tigers in the wild—whether from remote camera traps or tourist snapshots—were archived in a central database, “an image of a skin that had been taken from one of the tigers represented in that database could be traced within a few minutes to where and when the living animal was last recorded.” This could help authorities identify and locate poachers.