Home PlanetYucaEnvironment Balam and artificial intelligence, protection and monitoring of a Yucatan nature reserve

Balam and artificial intelligence, protection and monitoring of a Yucatan nature reserve

by Magali Alvarez
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The jaguar is king in the Yucatan jungle, but now it is monitored by artificial intelligence, in order to conserve a protected natural area of a little more than 61,000 hectares in the north of the state; a place guarded by the “Balam Warrior” of the Mayas.

On a tour, about six nautical miles, almost touching the sand, are born the eyes of fresh water that emerge from subway veins connected to cenotes and mixes with the salt water.

“The eye of water is emblematic of the reserve (…) it is the Ixbuya Ha, which in Mayan means noise, noise, daughter, it is water. That eye spouts 3,600 liters of water per minute, every day of the year, all the time. And it is one of the main veins of the mouths where the inland cenotes come together, the moment comes when they come together and here in the sea they flow out, but the Ixbuya Ha is the one that sprays the most water, (…) it is the most emblematic here in the reserve zone,” said Darwin Sosa, one of the tourist guides from the community of Dzilam.

A group of groups concerned about nature, with the help of a technology company and its data cloud and now artificial intelligence, has been able to meet five jaguars in the ecological reserve of Dzilam de Bravo: two males, one female and two cubs, but there could be more.

For the Mayan communities, the balam is a nocturnal animal, but they also consider it a symbol of power, life and fertility.

“The jaguar is the doctor, he is the chief here in the reserve, the biggest predator, and as long as there are jaguars it means that everything is cool, everything is calm, he is the big boss, that, well let’s say here in the reserve. In fact, for the Mayas the jaguar warrior was, you know, the best, there must be a reason, because he is the big boss,” said Sosa, who knows the place day and night.
The project called “Tech4Nature Mexico” uses an image and sound monitoring system to identify the jaguar and its prey, but also other wild animals.

The interdisciplinary group is composed of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Polytechnic University of Yucatan, the Ministry of Sustainable Development (SDS), and Huawei provides the “cloud” capabilities for the development of the project.

For a little more than 12 months, they have captured more than 30,000 photographs and 550,000 audio recordings, and this data is processed in Huawei Cloud’s ModelArts AI Platform and Rainforest Connection’s Arbimon AI platform.

But also two algorithms were created, an acoustic neural network, 85 species are automatically validated, 72 species included in the acoustic models, a neural network for image recognition and 93 percent accuracy of the algorithm for the arrest of jaguars through images.

For this, they have placed in a space of about 8 kilometers, among mangroves, where you can see the passage of thousands of ants, a variety of tree leaves, water dyed green, yellow, orange by nature, 20 camera traps and 60 audio recorders, were able to identify 88 birds, 22 mammals, five reptiles and four amphibians, of which 34 species are on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“It allows us to have like a little more of an overview of how biodiversity is being managed in some areas of the reserve here in Dzilam Bravo, that already I can tell you that we have five individuals of jaguar in our sampling zone that are fixed all the time, because we see them during the sampling time all the time.
“We have these different species that we had not registered for a long time in the state, but we already know that they are distributed here, and well, we already have a pattern in the area where we are sampling and now we are closing this first year with these results and now with talks with Huawei and all the allies of the project, we are looking to extend this to other reserves in the state”, explained the biologist, Toshio Yokoyama Cobá, director of management and conservation of natural resources for the government of Yucatán.

There are an estimated 5,000 jaguars living in their habitat in Mexico, and half of them are in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The photos, videos, and audios are stored on SD cards, and every 40 days, they are changed by the people involved in the project, and then taken to the laboratories of the Polytechnic University of Yucatan (UPY) to be processed, since they are terabytes of information.

“We are helping, now technology is the extensive arm of man, something that before we saw very far away and that technology, that cameras enter the field and that we had artificial intelligence, etcetera, all these kinds of things, today they are a reality, and using them properly I think is what will lead to incredible findings, In this year that we have been working with this project hand in hand with the government, today we have more than 85 species that have been found, specifically jaguars, which this project seeks to protect as an endangered species,” explained Samira Herrera, director of public relations for Huawei Mexico.
For her part, Sayda Rodríguez Gómez, head of the SDS of Yucatán, explained that it is difficult to convince anyone in the conservation of protected natural areas, and also to continue promoting efforts to keep the project alive.

However, the ecological reserve is threatened by hunting, deforestation and climate change.

“The jaguar, well because it is a species of course in danger of extinction, but because it is a priority species because through it we can as an umbrella species to determine if it is in a good state of conservation, to be able to, well deduce and also to protect, well many species that co-depend on them, and also understand what are these big items that can endanger and that can threaten the existence of the jaguar corridor in Yucatan,” said the state official.
In addition, there are nine state natural protected areas, totaling more than 532,000 hectares, representing 14 percent of the state’s territory.

“The individuals and population dynamics of this species in Yucatan, and of course for the entire peninsula, and thus identify that today the loss of habitat due to deforestation, the so-called jaguar-livestock conflict, which was also very present for a long time, and also why not say and accept, illegal hunting, which is another of the issues to combat, because these are these threats to this species that today are understood and dimensioned, but are sought through this project, how to use the information to combat these three major threats,” he concluded.

TYT Newsroom

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