New Online Database Looks To Tap Researchers' Cache Of Candid Wildlife Images

Jan 10, 2020

Around the world camera traps snapping images of wildlife generate enormous amounts of data, and thousands of those images go unused. A new online service called Wildlife Insights is working to encourage collaboration among researchers and put that data to use in the name of conservation.

These traps don't actually trap animals, of course. Instead, it's a camera that's placed in a landscape to record the behavior of wildlife. Usually it snaps a photo when it senses motion or heat.

Jorge Ahumada, the executive director of Wildlife Insights, said these traps are really popular among scientists, but not all the photos are put to use.

"And the reason is it that camera traps generate huge amounts of data," he said.

We're talking thousands and thousands of images sitting on researchers' computers and hard drives. Ahumada said the idea is to collect that unwieldy data and put it to use to foster a better understanding of biodiversity around the world.

"This is the first digital camera trapping platform built using cloud technology and AI," or artificial intelligence, Ahumada said.

As the Wildlife Conservation Society's Tim O'Brien wrote in a recent op-ed, the AI can identify 614 vertebrate species, "a number we expect to grow as experts upload more images and provide their insight into what the photos contain."

The project, which is backed by Google, is still in development. Ahumada said it will open to the public soon.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.