By Susmita Baral
Monitoring wildlife is an arduous task but a new app released from researchers at the University of Surrey plans to make it a fun (and easy) one. The iPad app -- called Wildsense -- uses citizen science to help endangered species in the form of a game.
How does it work? The app contains photos from the web that the game user analyzes for points. The analysis from the player is collected by the researchers and used to study animal behavior.
"People love to share photos online and the information about wildlife through these channels is vast and potentially very useful," said PhD student, Aaron Mason from the University of Surrey, in a news release. "We decided to turn this social data into a game that consolidates information on endangered animals and lets wildlife enthusiasts have a direct impact on welfare in an interactive way."
The researchers site India's tiger reserve as an example of how their app can be successful. Since thousands of tourists visit the reserves and upload pictures on social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram), the information from the photographs are a great resource regarding the tigers movements and way of living.
"Our initial focus is wild tigers, which is a challenge as it is difficult to distinguish between photos of actual tigers from the vast number of images online," adds Mason. "If you type the word 'tiger' in a search engine you get inundated with everything from famous golf players to baseball teams and cuddly toys. Our algorithms sort images by relevance using image metadata, which includes location, usernames and tags, successfully separating images of real tigers in the wild from other images online."
"Monitoring top predators such as tigers provides an important indication of habitat quality, as well as gaining insight into these beautiful animals themselves," added Professor Paul Krause from the University of Surrey. "The Wildsense app is an important step forward in our program of developing methods to track wild animals without resorting to intrusive physical tags or collars."