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New animal bar code scanner passes a wild test

The new StripeSpotter system reads the markings on wild animals. Naturalists and game keepers can use it to identify zebras, giraffes, tigers, and other striped beasts.

The thought of an animal bar code scanner generates some primal worries.

Do lions, tigers, and bears need bar code scanners? What would they be trying to price--antelope shanks? Are pet shop clerks skimming hamsters across laser scanners like so many cans of discount tuna?

Relax. No one is scribbling black lines onto goldfish with Sharpies. The bar code scanner in question is StripeSpotter--a serious tool in the tracking and cataloging of animals in the wild.

Zebras apparently are like snowflakes. CC eggshapedkath/Flickr

Just as no two human fingerprints are alike, the markings on zebra, giraffes, tigers, and other be-striped creatures are unique. StripeSpotter can identify such animals by scanning their markings off photographs. Once an animal is captured in an image, the software can identify the animal from any photograph by reading its markings. The system can even pick individual beasts out of a crowd.

The "automatic individual animal identification system for animals with prominent stripes or patches" (StripeSpotter is a little catchier) emerged from a team effort between the Computational Population Biology laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Equid Research and Conservation laboratory at Princeton University. It is already being used to build a zebra-print database for Plains and Grevys zebra in Kenya.

StripeSpotter runs in Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux and is written in common C++. This means it'll run even on older laptops beaten up in the wilds of Africa and Asia. Its catalog data is easily browsable by both animal "name" and image and its files can be backed up to a thumbdrive or to cloud technology like Dropbox to synchronize databases between multiple computers and users.

Perhaps most amazingly, the software promises total transparency and is free to all in a simple, non-zipped download.

(Via Discovery News)