|The big cats of the world are in trouble, but there are things you can do.The Camera CATalogue project, for example.|
Photo © byrdyak via Adobe Stock.
Friends, our wild cousins are in trouble. I’m talking about tigers and snow leopards (endangered), lions and cheetahs (vulnerable), and jaguars and leopards (near threatened). I’m talking about big cats whose very existence is threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and loss of prey. It’s easy to get a little bit upset by this situation and then say, “Well, that’s awful, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Not true! There are things you can do, and one of those things is to get involved in a citizen science project called CameraCATalogue.
You will become very familiar with animals that
are not cats; wildebeest, for example.
Photo © Palenque via Adobe Stock.
The Camera CATalogue project is from Panthera, a conservation organization dedicated to preserving wild cats, including cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, and tigers. It is run through Zooniverse, a website that hosts a whole collection of citizen science projects you can get involved in, from looking for comets to transcribing US Civil War–period military telegraphs to classifying cyclone data. Old SoLT has dabbled in a few Zooniverse projects over the last few years, because she is just that kind of nerd.
Camera CATalogue asks volunteers (that would be you) to look at photos captured from motion-activated camera-trap stations in Africa and identify what animals, if any, they see. The data are used to help estimate wild cat populations and see how they’re changing.
Easy and hard
It’s so easy to get started: You just go to the site, do a short tutorial, and in just a few mouse-clicks you’re identifying African wildlife. You’ll be shown a random series of photos from camera traps, and if there are animals present, you just select the species from a list and indicate how many there are and which side of the animal is visible (left, right, front, or back). If you sign up for a Zooniverse account (which is free), you can participate in forums and create a collection of the cool photos you’ve identified.
I labeled this section “Easy and hard” because, while it’s easy to look at a picture of an animal, it’s not always easy to figure out what the animal is. Sometimes the animal is so close to the camera, you see just a big brown blurry furry something. Sometimes the animal is at an awkward angle that doesn’t let you see any identifying characteristics. This seems to happen quite often with the antelope-shaped animals—at least that’s where old SoLT has trouble. What you do in these cases is just take your best guess. The photos are shown to several different people, they all take their best guess, and some sort of consensus is reached from all those guesses. At least that’s my understanding of the process.
Be prepared to not see any big cats
A jackal, another non-cat species you might see.
Photo © Lars Johansson via Adobe Stock.
While Camera CATalogue is about big cats, you should be prepared to not actually see any big cats. Don’t worry…you will see lots of animals. We have seen wildebeest, impalas, elephants, zebras, monkeys, rhinos, warthogs, and more (check out our collection here). We’ve also seen various jeeps, trucks, tractors, and other vehicles. We’ve seen people. We’ve seen many, many pictures with nothing in them. And we’ve seen an African civet (looks sort of catlike, but not a cat), a genet (also catlike, but not a cat), and a serval (cat!).
But we have yet to actually see a lion or leopard or cheetah.
A typical bunch of photos goes something like this:
Vehicle. Vehicle. Vehicle. Nothing. Impala. Nothing. Vehicle. Wildebeest. Nothing. ELEPHANT! Nothing. Vehicle. Vehicle. SERVAL—OMG, SERVAL! Nothing. Impala. Vehicle…
You get the idea.
Prepare yourself for addiction
You might not see a lot of cats by participating in this project. You might not see any cats at all. But you never know…the next photo you see could have a lion in it. Old SoLT finds that she sits down thinking she’ll spend about ten minutes identifying photos, and an hour later she’s still sitting there saying, “I’ll just do this one, and then I’ll quit. Ooh, is that a jackal? Okay, just one more…”
Just when you think you'll never see a cat
of any sort--a serval!
Photo © kyslynskyy via Adobe Stock.
If you’re into wildlife at all, prepare to be addicted. But know that your addiction is helping scientists learn more about wild cat populations.
And the next photo you see could have a lion in it!