Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch
This seems like one of those "of course!" ideas, but sometimes simple things take awhile to come around. Researchers have come up with a simple but effective way of identifying individual zebras through matching the markings on their coats in a database of stripes, similar to how we simply scan a barcode to get a price for a product. New Scientist reports, "The system, dubbed StripeSpotter, only requires a small amount of human input. Users draw a rectangle around the zebra's side, then this part of the image is automatically sliced into a number of horizontal bands and each pixel is made fully black or fully white, creating a low-resolution version of the zebra's stripes. Each band is then encoded as a StripeString, a sequence of coloured blocks with particular lengths - for example, white for two blocks, black for three, white for one - and the collection of StripeStrings forms a StripeCode, the zebra equivalent of a barcode."
This is apparently a far simpler, easier method than any devised so far for identifying individual zebras.
The project is on Google, and anyone can help build up the database. You can download the program, and start adding photographs of zebras and entering their stripe set into the database.
So, if you're out in Kenya and take photos of Plains or Grevys zebras, try using the StripeSpotter and seeing if the individual you photographed is already known, or a new addition to scientific research!
The researchers note that this same system could work with any species with a distinct marking on their coat, like giraffes, leopards, tigers and so on.
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