KUALA LUMPUR, August 18 — Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to change orangutan conservation in Sabah.

In conjunction with International Orangutan Day on August 19, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia has unveiled its latest efforts to conserve Sabah’s iconic Bornean orangutans.

Over 150,000 Bornean orangutans have been lost over a 16-year period between 1999 and 2015, marking a global decline in population.

Sabah however remains home to the world's biggest population of Bornean orangutans at 11,000 according to a WWF population study in 2019.

Locating the orangutan’s nests is the key conservation work to map the orangutan’s population distribution.

In the past, this required ground and aerial work using helicopters which were costly and labour-intensive.

Drones have been used as an alternative of late but requires long post-processing work to develop images.

Now, WWF Malaysia and University Malaysia Sabah are working together to use AI technology to analyse drone images and help scientists speed up the tracking orangutan population.

“From aerial images, orangutan nests might look similar to other animal nests such as that of giant squirrels and eagles,” UMS Computer Science PhD student Amanda Amran said in a statement.

“On AI, just like our orangutan experts, computers must also carefully learn the features of orangutan nests. AI needs to learn in great detail nest features such as nest structure, materials, and the position of the nests on trees.”

Amanda added that the machine learning model is in its early stages and has to learn the general features of the nest before learning its finer details.

Her aim is to create a deep-learning model that will detect, classify, and analyse aerial images of orangutan nests.

This will allow scientists to be able to different characteristics of nests and how they change with weather patterns in order to understand orangutans' behaviour and relationship with their habitat.

“We are looking at a future where technology is becoming all-encompassing and enhances almost every aspect of our lives. So why not our conservation work too?” WWF-Malaysia orangutan conservation manager for the Sabah Landscapes Programme Donna Simon said.

“This is a testament to our collective awareness of the importance of protecting orangutans here. In turn, our awareness has significantly contributed to keeping our orangutan population safe.”

WWF Malaysia hopes that the new innovative technology will be able to help conservation works for other endangered animal species around the world.

To find out more and support WWF Malaysia’s orangutan conservation work visit here.