Female giant pandas are fertile for only 24 to 36 hours a year: Valentine’s Day on steroids. A new neural network alerts human keepers when a panda couple mates.

What’s new: Panda breeders are struggling to lift the creatures’ global population, and tracking success in mating helps maintain their numbers. WeiRan Yan of Sichuan University, with researchers from Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and Sichuan Academy of Giant Panda, developed CGANet, a speech recognition network that flags consummated unions based on panda vocalizations.

Key insight: Prior work discovered the relationship between panda calls and mating success. A preliminary model used hand-crafted features to recognize calls meaning, “Wow, honey, you were great!” CGANet uses features extracted through deep learning.

How it works: The researchers trained CGANet on recordings of pandas during mating season labeled for mating success.

  • The model divides each recorded call into pieces and computes a frequency representation of each piece.
  • It uses convolutional, recurrent, and attention layers in turn to find patterns that predict mating success in different aspects of the pieces and their interrelationships.
  • It computes the probability of mating success for each piece, then sums the probabilities to generate a prediction for the call as a whole.

Results: CGANet’s predictions were 89.9 percent accurate, a new state of the art compared with the earlier model’s 84.5 percent. CGANet also substantially improved AUC (area under curve, a measure of true versus false positives).

Why it matters: Tracking a panda’s love life once required obtaining its hormones — a difficult and time-consuming feat. CGANet allows real-time, non-invasive prediction so keepers can give the less popular pandas another chance while they’re still fertile.

We’re thinking: For pandas, a happy Valentine’s Day is essential to perpetuate the species. Tools like CGANet could help save these unique creatures from extinction.


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