Counting sea lions and elephants from aerial photography using deep learning with density maps

Chirag Padubidri*, Andreas Kamilaris, Savvas Karatsiolis, Jacob Kamminga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The ability to automatically count animals is important to design appropriate environmental policies and to monitor their populations in relation to biodiversity and maintain balance among species. Out of all living mammals on Earth, 60% are livestock, 36% humans, and only 4% are animals that live in the wild. In a relatively short period, development of human civilization caused a loss of 83% of wildlife and 50% of plants. The rate of species extinction is accelerating. Traditional wildlife surveys provide rough population estimates. However, emerging technologies, such as aerial photography, allow to perform large-scale surveys in a short period of time with high accuracy. In this paper, we propose the use of computer vision, through deep learning (DL) architecture, together with aerial photography and density maps, to count the population of Steller sea lions and African elephants with high precision. Results: We have trained two deep learning models, a basic UNet without any feature extractor (Model-1) and another with the EfficientNet-B5 feature extractor (Model-2). We measured the model’s prediction accuracy, using Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) for the predicted and actual animal count. The results showed an RMSE of 1.88 and 0.60 to count Steller sea lions and African elephants, respectively, regardless of complex background, different illumination conditions, heavy overlapping and occlusion of the animals. Conclusions: Our proposed solution performed very well in the counting prediction problem, with relatively low training parameters and minimum annotation. The approach adopted, combining DL and density maps, provided better results than state-of-art deep learning models used for counting, indicating that the proposed method has the potential to be used more widely in large-scale wildlife surveying projects and initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Biotelemetry
Issue number1
Early online date7 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Aerial photography
  • Animal counting
  • Deep learning
  • Elephant
  • Steller sea-lions


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