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Taiwan unveils early warning detection system for leopard cats

2019-05-18  English News
Photo courtesy of CNA
Photo courtesy of CNA
Taipei, May 17 (CNA) A provincial highway in northern Taiwan introduced on Friday a first-of-its-kind smart roadside detection system that can help prevent roadkill incidents involving Taiwan's leopard cats, an endangered endemic wild cat species.

Developed in collaboration with the Endemic Species Research Institute and National Chung Hsing University (NCHU) in a project initiated by the Directorate General of Highways (DGH), the system can register every leopard cat that crosses the road and issue an advanced warning to drivers.

It employs thermal imaging cameras and recognition software with artificial intelligence (AI) capable of decision making to identify the cats and send a warning when the animal is a safety hazard that appears on a sign one kilometer before the hazardous area is reached.

By warning drivers a kilometer ahead of an actual animal crossing, the system gives them time to take precautions, said Chiang Ya-yu, an assistant professor in NCHU's Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The system will also emit light pulses and beeping sounds to distract and delay the animal from crossing the road, Chiang said.

Currently installed on one section of the Zhuolan section of Provincial Highway No. 3, the system can detect leopard cats, Chinese ferret-badgers and Formosan gem-faced civets, according to the professor.

The DGH said 16 different cameras have been set up along the provincial highway so far to collect data on the leopard cat, and depending on the results, it hopes to expand the installation of the system in the near future.

According to the Leopard Cat Association of Taiwan, the population of the leopard cats in the wild is currently less than 500 nationwide, with Miaoli, Taichung and Nantou the main areas of concentration.

According to various reports, four leopard cats have been struck dead by passing vehicles so far this year.

Taiwan's only surviving wild cat, leopard cats are roughly the size of house cats with tawny black-spotted pelts, and they thrive in Taiwan's lower elevations of around 500 meters.

The species suffers from pesticide contamination (consumed through their prey), as well as road kills associated with increased traffic in rural areas.