Pandas in focus at Copenhagen Zoo

1 August 2019
What do you do if you have a precious investment that needs surveillance 24/7? When Copenhagen Zoo welcomed two pandas from China, they chose to install Axis cameras in the enclosure to keep track of the animals at all times.

The panda project at Copenhagen Zoo

The Chinese pandas Xing Er and Mao Sun, a male and a female, were presented to the media on April 10, 2019. They are in Denmark on loan from China under a 15-year agreement at a cost of $1 million annually. As the ninth zoo in Europe to house pandas, Copenhagen Zoo hopes both to attract more visitors and to contribute to the breeding program.

Copenhagen Zoo was already successfully using Axis cameras in other parts of the zoo, so it was natural to choose Axis as the main provider for the panda facility. Axis solutions can also be found in the hippo enclosure and the polar bear hibernation den, as well as in the entry area, the tunnel under the road that divides Copenhagen Zoo into two parts, and the goods reception area. Those cameras handle queue monitoring, people counting and license plate verification to help the zoo improve its services.

Before the pandas arrived

Prior to the arrival of the pandas, the zoo had to design a new enclosure. A major challenge that the renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels had to take into consideration was the unusual mating habits of the panda. In the wild, pandas are solitary animals and meet only once a year when the female is in heat. The rest of the time they live separate lives.

The solution was to build a circular construction in the shape of yin and yang, a symbol of balance and a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy, where the middle wall will keep the animals separated most of the time. Between the two parts is a smaller space where the pandas can meet when it’s time to mate. To allow visitors a full view of the pandas from above, a walk has been built that goes around the entire enclosure. It’s also possible to watch the male panda at close range from a ground-level restaurant.

Naturally, the enclosure needs a surveillance system to make sure that the animals wouldn’t get far if they were to disappear from the enclosure or to quickly detect if a visitor has an accidental fall. “But above all, the zookeepers need to be able to see what is happening in the enclosure from a distance, especially during the breeding period,” says Lars Holse, Head of Animal Division at the Copenhagen Zoo. “It’s important to be able to detect the smallest changes in the pandas’ behavior to know when it is time to open the doors to their shared enclosure. This means that every corner of the enclosure has to be covered with cameras.”

The zoo’s greatest concerns

A panda at the Copenhagen Zoo
The enclosure is meant to resemble the panda’s two main habitats with dry bamboo forest and a denser woodland.

Although the specifications for the panda enclosure were the same as for all the other animals at Copenhagen Zoo, the round-shaped architecture was a challenge for surveillance as it offers many blind spots. “My team and I had to use a lot of imagination because we had to plan everything before the enclosure was finished. The buildings and plants were not yet in place when we suggested camera types and placements,” says Naishi Meng Lidé, Global Sales Engineer at Axis. “To make sure all the blind spots were covered, we brought all the cameras and equipment into the enclosure and tested the system to verify our design.”

In addition to the difficult angles, there is the issue of access. The zookeepers are not the only ones who need to be able to handle the surveillance system. “Since the panda facility includes a wastewater treatment plant with technical installations that need service regularly, the zoo’s engineers must always be able to access the surveillance cameras,” says Martin Rasmussen, IT project manager at Copenhagen Zoo. “They must be able to log into the cameras and see if there’s a serious problem or a false alarm.”

The surveillance system

The enclosure, which has a dry bamboo forest and a denser woodland kept misty by a fog machine to resemble the panda’s two main habitats, is a challenging environment for any camera. Most of the area is outdoors, so the system has to be extremely robust and weather-resistant. Since the main purpose of the cameras is to be able to spot the smallest changes in the animal behavior for the breeding program, there cannot be any blind spots and the footage needs to be of the highest quality.

Copenhagen Zoo is not worried that the many cameras, which are also used to monitor people on the walkway, will bother the visitors. “Cameras are a part of the everyday animal management program in a zoo,” says Lars Holse. “However, the architects behind the panda facility would like the cameras to be painted so that they better fade into the surroundings.”  That is why the poles, on which the cameras are attached, have the shape of bamboo stems. The installed Axis cameras fulfill all the zoo’s requirements: “The surveillance system works really well,” says Martin Rasmussen. “And the cameras fit right into the zoo’s existing IT infrastructure.”

Different kinds of cameras for different needs

The surveillance solutions at the zoo include panoramic and IR cameras, among others. Naishi Meng Lidé and her team chose panoramic cameras to monitor the pandas’ activities, but the cameras are also used to detect incidents in larger areas of the zoo or to track the flow of people to improve area management. At the zoo, there are three different types of panoramic cameras, where some cover 180 degrees and some 360 degrees, with a wide coverage to avoid blind spots.

The technical development of panoramic cameras has been extraordinary in recent years. The distorted image that some people associate with panoramic cameras is in the past.

“The technical development of panoramic cameras has been extraordinary in recent years,” says Naishi Meng Lidé. “The distorted image that some people associate with panoramic cameras is in the past. A single camera can play the role of many, which makes it easy to monitor activity and detect incidents in large areas.” The zoo also uses a few pan–tilt–zoom (PTZ) cameras that offer the best of two worlds: wide-area coverage and great detail from a single unit. They switch between preset positions and zoom in automatically when events are triggered, or motion is detected in an area of interest.

Since the pandas need to be checked every hour of the day, the Axis team also chose to install cameras with advanced, optimized infrared (IR) technology, offering excellent video during the nocturnal hours with the additional advantage of being vandal-resistant.

A win-win project

 “The cooperation with Axis is very good,” says Martin Rasmussen. “The Axis team fully understands the issues with the blind angles in the panda facility and the requirements of the zoo’s engineers.” The Axis team worked closely together with the zoo staff to have the cameras installed in time for the pandas’ arrival. “It’s not every day that you put up cameras in a building site with a very tight deadline and TV crews running around in the enclosure to get material enough for a whole night of broadcasting.”

The project benefits both partners, with Copenhagen Zoo having the advantage of using high-quality cameras to monitor the pandas and other areas of the park, and with Axis being able to continually test their camera technology in a very demanding environment – tests that are evaluated for further development of Axis range of surveillance solutions.


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