San Diego Zoo Global Launches Site to “Crowdsource” Conservation

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Wildwatch Kenya Invites the Public to Help Researchers Track Giraffes and Other Wildlife—on a Computer Screen

San Diego Zoo Global, today, introduced a new project that gives everyone with a computer or smartphone the opportunity to play a significant role in wildlife conservation research—and the good news is, an advanced science degree is not needed. Starting now, people around the world can help conserve giraffes and other wildlife by participating in an online crowdsourcing project called Wildwatch Kenya on Zooniverse—the largest online platform for crowdsourced volunteer research. Participants will get the chance to sort through thousands of trail camera photos—normally only seen by conservationists—to help identify and track giraffes and other wildlife throughout northern Kenya.

“We need help counting, identifying and tracking the giraffes and other wildlife in the photos,” said David O’Connor, researcher and conservation ecologist for San Diego Zoo Global. “Inviting the public to help is key to organizing the data, which is vital to the success of our conservation projects. It also provides a chance for people to do important work to help save species.”

More than 1 million images have been captured in the field within the past year, through a network of more than 100 motion-activated cameras in the East African nation. After collecting the photos, researchers would normally catalog each image, identifying and counting the animals pictured—a task that could take them years to complete. Wildwatch Kenya allows the public to help, which will save valuable time and allow scientists to move forward with their conservation work much faster.

The Wildwatch Kenya site was created using Zooniverse’s free Project Builder tool at zooniverse.org/lab, and anyone who wishes to participate can do so by visiting WildwatchKenya.org. Volunteers will be asked to identify what is pictured in a new trail photo by choosing from an animal list or indicating that no animal is pictured. Initially, more than 20,000 field photographs will be available for public viewing, and more will be added soon. Each image will eventually be viewed by multiple volunteers, to ensure that photos that are not needed are filtered out.

This crowdsourcing project is part of an overall effort by scientists to gather more information on giraffes. Earlier this month, a team of conservationists made up of personnel from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Loisaba Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institution, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Senckenberg BiK-F, Goethe University, and San Diego Zoo Global fitted 11 reticulated giraffes in the region with small solar-powered GPS tracking devices made by Savannah Tracking. This unprecedented project will provide real-time data on giraffe movements, the size of their home ranges, where they travel during seasons and the travel corridors they use. This information could assist community conservancies in developing better strategies for managing their lands and livestock, while also expanding the frontiers of giraffe science.

Over the past few years, conservationists have worked tirelessly to track and count giraffe species—analyzing existing data and conducting giraffe counts. Assessing giraffe populations can be challenging and expensive work, requiring aerial surveys and long hours in the field monitoring and counting giraffes, often in remote areas with rough terrain. Through these efforts, researchers have discovered that the world’s population of giraffes continues to decline at an alarming rate, with just under 100,000 individuals left in their native habitats. That is a decrease of nearly 40 percent over the last 20 years. These findings led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to change giraffes’ status last year to Vulnerable, on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Scientists believe the startling downward trend is due to poaching, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and disease—leading to situations where certain giraffe subpopulations have decreased so rapidly, they are now extinct in seven African nations. San Diego Zoo Global has partnered with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy, as well as other conservation organizations, to help reverse this trend in East Africa through the creation of community-based conservation projects with Kenyan pastoralists.

“Community conservancies are where we’re seeing strong signs of hope with increasing giraffe population numbers,” said O’Connor. “We are working hard to support those conservancies and the people that coexist with giraffes, to assist their incredible efforts on the front lines.”

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