Caught on Camera: Serengeti Wildlife

July 14, 2015
  • Warthog with cleaner birds
  • Young zebra
  • Vulture
  • Wild cat
  • Giraffe
  • Lion with cub
  • Antelope
  • Animal running away
  • Wildebeest
  • Hippopotamus
  • Porcupine
  • Anteater

How does an ecologist study the coexistence of all the predator and prey animals on Africa’s vast Serengeti Plain without being swamped by data? Alexandra Swanson, then a University of Minnesota graduate student, solved the problem with an assist from 28,000 volunteers who helped analyze the 1.2 million images snapped by 225 camera traps in the largest crowd-sourced imaging project to date.

The traps captured candid moments in the lives of not only lions, giraffes, zebras, etc., but rarely seen species like the aardwolf, zorilla, and honey badger. Her Snapshot Serengeti study, co-developed with then-fellow grad student Margaret Kosmala, was part of the Zooniverse citizen science project and surveyed the habits of dozens of mammals across 384 square miles.  

The images included 322,653 that contained animals, with 40 species identified. They showed lions with cubs, closeups of birds and mammals investigating the cameras, and even a hot-air balloon next to a herd of wildebeest.

"The camera trap project allowed my students to measure new aspects of lion ecology that never would have been possible otherwise,” says Craig Packer, Distinguished McKnight University Professor. Also, "…  [T]heir fantastic success has allowed the general public to help with our research in a meaningful way. It’s never been more urgent to engage the general public in the scientific enterprise.”

A news release is available.