The animal kingdom is getting its own social network. It’s called “Wildbook.” No, the animals won’t be posting selfies or status updates. Wildbook will contain data shared by humans that could help save species from extinction. Wildbook works by using new technology built to keep track of wildlife. Researchers can post images taken from the field. Data will also come from pictures and videos that people take on whale-watching tours, safaris and other trips.
Wildbook can recognize the same animal in different images. This will allow the animals to be tracked throughout their lifetime and make it easier to estimate population sizes. Other data can be added, such as the animal’s gender and age, as well as where its picture was taken. Each animal gets its own profile to track sightings. There are currently 12 Wildbooks for 30 different species—like giraffes, polar bears, and seals. The vision is for Wildbook to become a single, huge database with as many different kinds of animals as possible.
Wildbook uses software to tell animals apart. It works much like the face recognition software on Facebook. However, because photos of animals often do not show their face clearly, Wildbook’s recognition tool also works for other body parts. The researchers pick characteristics that are unique so that the machines can tell the difference, like the stripes of a zebra.
One problem is that the software works best on animals with patterns on their skin, and it does not work for some animals. For example, elephants cannot be identified due to their gray skin. The Wildbook team is investigating whether elephants’ ears are unique enough for their software to see the differences.
The data collected will help guide efforts like deciding where to mark protected land, controlling predators and adding animals to the endangered species list. Wildbook will help scientists better understand animals’ social structures, breeding habits and responses to environmental problems such as deforestation and climate change.
Thanks to the large number of people who have phones with cameras and an internet connection, researchers can count on having plenty of photos and videos to review. There are also some apps that enable anyone to post images of wild animals which scientists can then use in research. One thing is certain — the “Facebook of animals” will give scientists much more data than they have ever had access to before.
Researchers n. — People who investigate and collect information
Species n. — A group of the same type of animals
Data n.– Information
Extinction n. — The death of the last individual in a group
Recognize v. — To see and know what something is
Database n. — A collection of data
Unique adj. — Different; special
Predators n. — Animals that eat smaller animals
Deforestation n. — Cutting down of trees in a forest
Access n. — Ability to have something