Citizen scientists: help identify wild cats for conservation.

Reader Luke Hunter is an Australia biologist, author of Wild Cats of the World (a great book for the ailurophile), and president of Panthera, described as “a New York-based conservation nonprofit [Hunter] helped to create in 2006, which is dedicated to the range-wide conservation of the world’s wild cat species.” Luke and others (including Matthew Cobb) alerted me to a new project in which anybody having a familiarity with wild cats can help scientists identify the animals seen in camera-trap photos.

I’m recruiting volunteer citizen scientists to help us ID thousands of camera-trap photos from our leopard survey work across southern Africa- your audience might enjoy it, as it’s great fun and hugely popular (we had around 100,000 responses in the first 12 hours of it being launched). If you think it’s something you could pass on, the link is here.

I asked for more information, including what would happen if we misidentified animals, and Luke responded:

Yes please take a look at CamCat if you can: you don’t need to be a specialist, there are various aids to help and the system works by assigning an ID once a certain number of the same choice is made in succession. Depending on that consistency, a photo gets kicked back into the system with the bar raised for accepting the  ID and/or flagged for a human to view. It’s pretty cool.

Be sure to register, though you don’t have to, to get access to discussion boards, or even credit for your work.

Just a tip: when you see the pictures (there are 52 today), you click on the list to the right to identify the animal you think it is, like this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 3.53.06 AM

Here are the animals you’ll be asked to identify (notice that they include “vehicles” and “nothing”.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 4.04.28 AM

When you click on one, several photos come up (click on the dots to see various views) to help you make sure you’re right (or close):

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 4.07.18 AM

After you look at a photo of the animal you think it is, you get asked two questions:

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 3.53.23 AM

After answering them and pressing “identify”, you press the green “DONE” button that comes up, and the next photo appears.

Here’s the reason they’re doing this, and that page also shows what the cameras look like:

Camera CATalogue is part of an effort to monitor big cats at a large enough scale to assist wildlife management and conservation. At multiple sites across the globe, Panthera’s scientists set up a suite of motion-activated camera-trap stations. Each station comprises two cameras, enabling us to photograph both flanks of an animal as it walks past the cameras. We can then distinguish individually identifiable species (e.g., leopard, cheetah, jaguar) by the unique spot patterns on their coats, and use statistical models (known as capture-recapture models) to assess how often an individual is photographed.

Combined with information on where individuals were photographed, these data generate a robust estimate of wild cat populations for each study site. By conducting camera-trapping surveys every year, we can track trends to gauge whether populations have increased, decreased, or remained stable.

Camera traps cannot differentiate between wild cats and other animals, so as you can imagine, this means our camera-traps generate a huge amount of photographs. This is why we need the assistance of citizen scientists like you to help identify and classify all the images we collect so we can better understand—and protect—wild cats across the globe.

Here’s one I had trouble with:

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 4.11.52 AM


  1. Merilee
    Posted August 14, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Very cool!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 14, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Have no idea what that is on the ground in that last shot. It’s not nothing.

    • Posted August 14, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Luke told me it’s a BUFFALO!

      • mudskipper
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        If you look closely at what appear to be large ears, they actually resolve to horns and a massive head plate. Which would make it a Cape Buffalo.

        I think the photo is misleading because the foreground/background makes the animal look smaller than it is.

      • Merilee
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Looked like a buffalo to me straight away! I can never see those damned nightjars, but this was a piece of cake.

  3. Posted August 14, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    brown hyaena is my guess

  4. Richard Dahl
    Posted August 14, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Excellent decoupler, without being a time waster like so many other online diversions. (definitely different than my day job). Caught one cat, a genet, in a little over 100 pics. Numerous other animals including numerous giraffe legs.

  5. Posted August 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    An interesting activity, though I am not sure if I can spare any time to help. I wonder if the results can be fed into a neural network to help automate matters later on.

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