This was a wonderful project that paired an extensive grid of camera-trap photos across the Serengeti in East Africa with the crowd -- basically anyone who wanted to assist in the classifying of animals captured on the thousands of photographs collected. One didn't have to know much about African wildlife, though the experience was a real teaching tool to those unfamiliar with the numerous animals to be found in the Serengeti. The project has finished classifying the data, however they have left a cache of photographs to give one a chance to learn how to move through a series of choices (marking, horn shapes and so on) to help you arrive a pretty good guess of what you are seeing. There are also ongoing discussions about odd photos that require a guess work to determine the small visible clues of a mystery animal. And while this project is done -- there is also list of other similar projects that could use your help -- like this one a little closer to home: The Chicago Wildlife Project.
The Serengeti Snapshot project was original interest was to try and track the habits and roaming patterns of the Serengeti lions. Alexandra Swanson (a carnivore researcher working on her doctorate) soon realized there was a lot more than lions to be seen through the cameras. Here's a snippet from the linked article above:
"Thanks to radio collars, much is already known about where lions roam in the Serengeti; Swanson was attempting to understand how they interact with the other animals they encounter. She and her colleagues placed more than two hundred cameras in a grid covering eleven hundred square miles, in the heart of lion territory. Mostly she attached the cameras to trees, but keeping them there was a challenge. Hyenas had a habit of chewing on them; sometimes she returned only to find bits of plastic. Elephants ripped the cameras off and hurled them into the bush. “I have a whole collection of the-last-photo-taken-by-this-camera photos,” she said. In many photos, the cameras themselves are the objects of inquiry. Swanson suspects that they carried a human odor, prompting some animals to inspect them and certain cats to scent-mark them (“I’ve seen very intimate photos of cheetahs and servals”). But, for the most part, the camera traps were ignored. One stirring sequence begins with a lion hauling a zebra to the ground in center frame; for a few hours after, the carcass is the site of a busy feast."
Let's hope there are many more projects like this -- I would especially would love to see one here in the Tucson area in the mountains as there is so much wildlife deep in the shadows or hiding out during the day. I am sure we would see our fair share of coyote and cubs, mule deer, maybe the newly introduced Big Horn sheep on Mt. Lemmon, and more of the illusive jaguars in the Santa Ritas.