Conservationists Develop Facial Recognition App to Stop Illegal Sale of Chimps

Monkey business can be big business, especially when you’re trafficking in stolen apes. The UN Environment Programme estimates that as many as 3,000 great apes are illegally taken from the wild every year. The majority of those apes are chimpanzees, with baby chimps often commanding a $12,500 price tag on the open market.  

Thankfully, conservationists have developed a new facial recognition app to track down smugglers – by looking for recognizable faces among chimps. ChimpFace is the brainchild of conservationist Alexandra Russo, who reached out to Dr. Colin McCormick at the non-profit Conservation X labs after pouring through countless Facebook and Instagram posts to search for evidence of illegal sales.

“I thought there must be a more efficient way to do this,” Russo told BBC News. “I began discussing the possibility of using some kind of software that could automatically find ape faces in online searches.”

The algorithm works much like any other facial recognition app, and was built from a database of 3,000 images of known apes, both in the wild and in sanctuaries. The project received photo contributions from nine chimpanzee conservation organizations around the world.

The immediate goal is to team with social media networks and local and international police units to identify criminal networks and put a stop to wildlife trafficking. ChimpFace could also help researchers identify apes in long term studies in a manner similar to Michigan State University’s PrimNet and LemurFaceID.

Source: BBC News

January 24, 2019 – by Eric Weiss