Wildwatch Kenya: A Wondrous Window into the Secret Lives of Wildlife

Having visited Kenya years ago, I was eager to “do my part” as a citizen scientist on San Diego Zoo Global’s conservation project called Wildwatch Kenya. I never imagined how wildly addictive and wonderfully surprising looking at the field camera images would be! You never know what will appear next—from a lone aardvark to a herd of zebras and everything in between—and it’s really exciting to come across a big group of animals or a mixed-species image. I haven’t had this much fun on the Internet since Farmville was in its heyday. And it benefits one of my favorite species: the giraffe.

Reticulated giraffe numbers have declined by 70 percent in the past 20 years. A key aspect to saving this towering species is gaining a deeper understanding of how giraffes use the landscape and what other species (including humans) they share the habitat with. To find out, conservationists have set up a grid of 100 motion-triggered field cameras across two conservancies in Kenya, which will provide data about “giraffe hotspots” as well as areas that are not used by giraffes. The images from these cameras all need to be reviewed and classified, providing valuable information to the giraffe researchers that informs their conservation work. Since the project began last June, about 150,000 photos have been completed, and there are now over 5,000 volunteer citizen scientists helping to classify the images.

But there is much more to do! So far, more than one million images have been captured from the field! For our small research team, classifying that many photos would take years to complete. To make a difference for giraffes now and move the project forward, we need your help to view and classify the next phase of field photos. Our goal is to classify images from all 100 camera sites by May 2018—we’re calling it the “Million Photo Challenge.” Our research team will then be able to compile the information and share their findings on World Giraffe Day in June.

You can log onto wildwatchkenya.org (on a citizen science platform called Zooniverse) and join volunteers from around the world in a common—and habit-forming—goal to help giraffes!

“This crowdsourcing tool has been a critical component in our giraffe conservation work,” said Jenna Stacy-Dawes, research coordinator for San Diego Zoo Global. She said that about 850,000 more photos need to be classified to make it to one million, and we are hoping at least 15,000 more volunteers will join in to help us reach the goal.

What’s great about Wildwatch Kenya is that the cameras are on 24/7 and can capture pretty cool dusk and nighttime images. It is candid scenery like no other!

And you don’t have to be a wildlife expert, as there is a mini field guide of “possible suspects” with animal descriptions and photos, so you can compare your discovery to what’s on the list.

For instance, I discovered this little nocturnal creature and wasn’t completely sure what it was, but it lined up well with the genet description.

Some images leave me gasping at the vast beauty of them, like this mighty tusker that filled my screen one day.

Other photographs are amusing in their random composition and unlikely poses.

Sometimes you get to meet the locals!

Others are ready for their close up.

Nighttime mystery: aardvark or pangolin?

Pretty in pink.

Wildwatch Kenya is a chance for anyone with an inclination to help wildlife to join a community of citizen scientists. Volunteers can save their “favorite” images in their Zooniverse profile and share questions and information with San Diego Zoo Global staff and other volunteers.

Help us meet our Million Photo Challenge and assist our research team with their giraffe conservation work. Check out wildwatchkenya.org for a journey you won’t soon forget. See you on the savanna!

Karyl Carmignani is a staff writer for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous blog, Forest Bathing at the Zoo.