Delplanque A., Lamprey R., Foucher S., Théau J., Lejeune P. (2023) Surveying wildlife and livestock in Uganda with aerial cameras: Deep Learning reduces the workload of human interpretation by over 70%. Front. Ecol. Evol. 11:1270857
doi: 10.3389/fevo.2023.1270857
Abstract : 
As the need to accurately monitor key-species populations grows amid increasing pressures on global biodiversity, the counting of large mammals in savannas has traditionally relied on the Systematic-Reconnaissance-Flight (SRF) technique using light aircrafts and human observers. However, this method has limitations, including non-systematic human errors. In recent years, the Oblique-Camera-Count (OCC) approach developed in East Africa has utilized cameras to capture high-resolution imagery replicating aircraft observers’ oblique view. Whilst demonstrating that human observers have missed many animals, OCC relies on labor-intensive human interpretation of thousands of images. This study explores the potential of Deep Learning (DL) to reduce the interpretation workload associated with OCC surveys. Using oblique aerial imagery of 2.1 hectares footprint collected during an SRF-OCC survey of Queen Elizabeth Protected Area in Uganda, a DL model (HerdNet) was trained and evaluated to detect and count 12 wildlife and livestock mammal species. The model’s performance was assessed both at the animal instance-based and image-based levels, achieving accurate detection performance (F1 score of 85%) in positive images (i.e. containing animals) and reducing manual interpretation workload by 74% on a realistic dataset showing less than 10% of positive images. However, it struggled to differentiate visually related species and overestimated animal counts due to false positives generated by landscape items resembling animals. These challenges may be addressed through improved training and verification processes. The results highlight DL’s potential to semi-automate processing of aerial survey wildlife imagery, reducing manual interpretation burden. By incorporating DL models into existing counting standards, future surveys may increase sampling efforts, improve accuracy, and enhance aerial survey safety.