In an attempt to better understand how their animals behave, Serengeti National Park researchers have taken advantage of a neat, albeit potentially annoying, modern invention – hidden cameras.
Hidden cameras have proven to be quite a powerful tool for ecologists and conservation biologists alike in recent years as they allow the experts to gather information on rarely seen, enigmatic animals. They’re not intrusive, they don’t scare off or enrage animals, and they can document unknown behavior by simply lasting much longer than an on sight human observer ever could.
Alexandra Swanson, a carnivore researcher, gave a statement to Newyorker.com saying that the resulting photos show “these animals at their most candid—the secret lives you never get to see”. She went on to explain that the goal of the survey was to learn how predators and their prey co-existed across dynamic landscapes
The hundreds of thousands of newly released photos from Serengeti National Park in Tazmania were taken between the years of 2010 and 2013, and recorded the animals’ behaviors day and night.
While most surveys use 20 or 39 camera traps, for this project, scientists used 225 camera traps hidden in various spots across a surface of 1.250 square miles. Most of them were strategically attached to trees or metal posts, but some lasted longer than others.
A number of cameras were destroyed by hyenas that enjoyed chewing on them and by elephants that ripped the cameras right off of the trees. At the end of it all they collectively ended up capturing 1.2 million sets of candid pictures.
The cameras used infrared sensors in order to detect movement and activate every time an animal was passing by, or playing and hunting near each camera. Each trespass triggers one to three (1 to 3) shots.
The researchers were then faced with a whole new challenge – how to sort and analyze the overwhelming number of candid photos. Alexandra Swanson solved the issue by asking scientists or aspiring scientists in the general population to help categorize them.
They offered information about what species were present in the photos (everything from lions and leopards, to zebras and wildebeests), how many animals could be seen in each photo, and what the creatures were doing. Each photo was analyzed by several different people.
More than 28.000 eager volunteers joined the project. Together they identified 48 different species of mammals that live in Serengeti National Park, with some of them being notoriously elusive – the aardvark and the zorilla.
The team hopes that data collected will not only help animal scientists in their studies, but also provide computer engineers with information they need in order to write better learning algorithms for AIs (artificial intelligences).
Swanson informed that the project was the largest camera tracking survey in recorded history.
Image Source: cdni.wired.co.uk