CONSERVATION FROM THE COUCH: FROM GERMANY AND AFRICA TO OKLAHOMA

Senior primates caretaker, Laura Lynn, has been working for the Oklahoma City Zoo for more than nine years. Since grade school, Laura had an interest in primates and becoming a primate ethologist, think Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey. Wanting to gain more experience, Laura became an animal caretaker at the OKC Zoo. However, the scientist within has always looked for research and conservation initiatives in which to take part, and in 2015 that became a reality in a way she never dreamed.

Thanks to a program called Chimp&See, Laura was able to combine her love for primates and conservation on a global scale and do it all from the comfort of her couch. Chimp&See is an online science project that recruits the help of citizen scientists around the world. With trail cameras and camera traps set up in 15 countries throughout Africa, Chimp&See asks research enthusiasts to watch and identify animals that trek across the cameras, especially chimpanzees!

The project is based out of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and is dedicated to gaining a better understanding of chimpanzees and their behaviors. Anyone can classify the video clips and try their hand at individual chimp identification and while research is primarily focused on this endangered species, many other species are seen on the cameras including pangolins, porcupines, leopards and a variety of hoofstock. As research continues to move through the continent, a new site recently opened with footage from Nigeria.

“I’m incredibly excited for this new footage,” said Laura. “This new site is the one and only time we have the opportunity to find Cross-River gorillas, a highly endangered, rarely seen subspecies.”

Recently the OKC Zoo primate care team participated in a fundraiser for the conservation of Cross-River gorillas alongside the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) at Oklahoma City’s local favorite, Fassler Hall.

Laura has been involved with Chimp&See since 2015, and in 2017 became a moderator with the program. As a moderator, she helps other citizen scientists find their way around the website, edit annotations, and provide expertise on individual chimp identification. She has also helped manage social media posts for the project and recently developed a guide to identify different species of birds seen in footage. One of the most challenging aspects is the complex process of identifying individual chimpanzees since the same animal must have been seen at two different camera locations and multiple people must agree that it’s the same animal in both videos before being considered a match. In her seven years with the Chimp&See team, Laura has been selected to name 15 chimpanzees from seven different camera sites. Laura is also cohosting the Cross-River gorilla matching forum with another experienced moderator. Together, the two must read posts from citizen scientists, poll other users for feedback and assemble slides of photos useful for identifying matches. 

If you’re interested in getting in on all the fun with Laura, you can become a citizen scientist with Chimp&See by going to www.zooniverse.org and signing up to try your hand at animal identification! You don’t have to be a primate expert like Laura, anyone can participate. The more help Chimp&See receives, the more they can learn about chimpanzees and help save this endangered species.

OKC Zoo chimpanzee, Kirsty. 

 

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