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Hunt for African Wildlife From Your Computer

A new citizen science project lets you in to the beautiful world of Serengeti National Park

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Photo: Snapshot Serengeti

Released to the world yesterday, the brand new online science project Snapshot Serengeti compiles millions of photographs that have been captured over the past few years by 225 automated camera traps spread around Serengeti National Park—photographs showing everything from lions and waterbuck, to elephants, gazelle or honey-badgers. As part of the larger Zooniverse collective, Snapshot Serengeti is a citizen science project.

The photographs, captured as part of a research project by scientists at the University of Minnesota, may be fun to look at, but they are not by themselves particularly valuable scientifically. On the projects’ blog, Margaret Kosmala, one member of the research team, says that what is valuable to the researcher who’s analyzing the photos is the information they contain: which animals are present? What animals are found together? How many of them are there? What are they doing?

For example, if she knows which images contain wildebeest and zebra, she can use that data put together a map that shows their density across the landscape. (The size of the circles show how many wildebeest and zebra there are in various places — bigger circles mean more wildebeest and zebra.)

To help process the photographs and to let people into a beautiful world that they may not be able to enjoy otherwise, Kosmala and her colleagues are hoping to rely on the idle time (or tendency to procrastinate) of people around the world.

The interface is pretty straightforward: you look at a picture, pick from a list of animals (with example photos to help you choose), say how many there are, and click a box to say what they’re doing (sitting, standing, eating, etc.)

Hannah Waters, on her blog Culturing Science, says “he process is a perfect replacement for standard procrastination methods.”

After you get the method down, it’s relatively brainless, but has moments of excitement: “OH MY GOD a baby elephant!” is not dissimilar from “OH MY GOD that guy from high school got fat!” And it certainly gives instant gratification as you scroll through the photos, successfully completing each one.”

The big difference is that I don’t hate myself after an hour of identifying African animals. Instead, I feel like I’ve done some good in the world.

More from Smithsonian.com:

This Camera Trap Snared a Bonanza of Indonesian Wildlife
The Secret Lives of Animals Caught on Camera

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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