Snapshot Safari: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Wild Words

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is a supporter of Snapshot Safari, a camera network created by the University of Minnesota’s Lion Center. Through a donations from the Round Up for Conservation Funds, the Zoo contributed to the establishment of a camera trap grid in Zimbabwe in 2018. These cameras are used to contribute data to a census of mammals in several African countries. The Zoo’s long-time conservation partner, Painted Dog Research Trust (PDRT), has also used the cameras for ongoing painted dog research. Many Zoo team members have also supported Snapshot Safari’s census program by classifying photos captured by the cameras.

The Snapshot Safari network combines the efforts of academic researchers and conservation organizations by deploying grids of cameras to monitor large mammals, including lions and elephants in nature reserves. By continually running cameras within a camera trap grid, Snapshot Safari is able to capture millions of images that provide unique insights into animal behavior and how wildlife populations are faring in protected areas. The mission of the program is to utilize the collected information to address  pressing questions related to the welfare of animals, subject to pressures from poaching, loss of habitat and climate change.

The African lion in the second-largest big cat and is currently listed as a vulnerable species, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With a 43% population decrease in the last 21 years, lion conservation and research are more important than ever. These social carnivores live in grassy plains and open woodlands but continue to lose crucial habitat at an increasing rate. Threats to the species also include human-wildlife conflict, loss of prey and poaching. The Zoo is currently a participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (SSP) African Lion Species Survival Plan®, a program that oversees the population management of select species. The Zoo is home to a pride of African lions including male, Hubert (10) and females, Moto (4)  and Dunai (4), as well as two packs of African painted dogs.

The African painted dog is one of the most endangered species in Africa. With fewer than 7,000 painted dogs left across the entire continent, they are classified as endangered by IUCN. Painted dogs are a highly intelligent and social species with packs ranging from two to thirty individuals. In the past five years, the Zoo has contributed over $53,000 to PDRT’s conservation initiatives and sent six team members to Zimbabwe, Africa, to assist with conservation projects in the field. The Zoo is also a participant in AZA’s African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan®.

With the help of nearly 200,000 volunteers, Snapshot Safari has classified more than 18 million images to date on their website.

These data will be used to help wildlife managers adjust conservation tactics by providing them valuable information regarding where animals are hunting, resting and migrating. The data generated by this project also led to the development of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that can rapidly and accurately detect whether animals are present in images, and identify the species observed. The data will be made available for scientific and educational purposes throughout the world, once perfected. With these data, Snapshot Safari is working towards educating and disseminating the wildlife management strategies that work best to protect threatened species and their habitats.

To learn more about Snapshot Safari, visit their website.

 

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