Elephant Expedition: Using Citizen Science to better understand African Forest Elephants
Researchers at the University of Oxford have set up a network of hidden camera traps in the central African rainforest.
As part of my PhD, I’ve organized setting up motion and heat sensitive cameras are set up along elephant paths in central Gabon. They photograph any animal (or human!) that walks past them, and to analyse these millions of images we’ve teamed up with www.zooniverse.org.
The aim of the study is to better understand which areas have more elephants visiting them, whether this changes throughout the year, and how this might be affecting, and affected by, the vegetation in these areas.
Finding and counting forest elephants and other animals.
Citizen scientists are helping us find and count African forest elephants. The process itself is simple: you, as a citizen scientist, are shown an image from one of the camera traps, you identify the animal in the image, and if it’s an elephant you tell us how many elephants you see. It seems simple enough, but the speed and accuracy that citizen scientists can achieve in an analysis like this is incomparable and invaluable.
The most exciting part of the project though is finding the animals! We’ve got tons of beautiful photographs of elephants, but there’s also photos of gorillas, leopards, chimpanzees, pangolins, buffalo, red river hogs, and other forest animals to find. It really is a virtual safari through the central African rainforest!
How does Citizen Science help?
We have forty different sites being monitored by camera traps, and these cameras run for at least a year, and they capture every animal that walks past… that’s a lot of photographs, and we need a lot of help to analyse them! Citizen science is a great way to analyse camera trap data because nothing is better at identifying animals in photographs than people. Citizen science platforms (such as Zooniverse) bring together millions of people from across the world with a shared interest in science and unite them to reach a shared objective.
Citizen science is a partnership between researchers and interested members of the public, and both parties benefit. The citizen scientist get’s to be an active participant in a large-scale scientific project, often involving quite enjoyable activities, such as searching for wild animals in camera trap photographs. The research team also benefits, and gets much needed help with analysing their data. Most of all, the opportunity to share the science from such an early stage, all the way through to the completion of the project, makes citizen science a hugely rewarding activity for everyone involved.
Join us, and go on your own virtual safari through the Central African rainforest!
The project is called Elephant Expedition and anyone who wants to be involved becomes part of a community. You can identify photos from the camera traps, you can save and share your favourite animal photos, you can discuss interesting photographs on the talk boards of the project, and you can follow and interact with the project, it’s researchers, and it’s citizen science community through social media.
We’re always expanding the Elephant Expedition community.
Join us, we’d love to have you!
Find the project here:
Follow us on:
Twitter @ellieexpedition and