A New Cloud Platform Unveils the Most Diverse Camera Trap Database in the World

Fueled by Artificial Intelligence, Wildlife Insights provides access to over 4.5 million camera trap records. 

Date published: 2019/12/17

Today, conservation organizations released over 4.5 million camera trap records as a part of Wildlife Insights, a groundbreaking cloud platform that provides vital, near real-time information about the wildlife populations across the globe.

Wildlife Insights explore

Camera traps are used worldwide, snapping thousands of photographs a day and providing scientists with an unequaled view into the habits and habitats of wildlife, including numerous threatened and endangered species. But all this information has a downside — it is time consuming to sort through and painstaking to process.  

“Technology has made it very easy to collect this data, but we don’t have access to it,” said Jorge A. Ahumada, senior wildlife conservation scientist at Conservation International and executive director of Wildlife Insights, in an interview about the new platform.“There are camera traps everywhere and millions of camera-trap images out there. But most of those images are sitting on people’s computers and databases. It’s a major lost opportunity for conservation.”

A tiger photographed with a camera trap in the Khata biological corridor, Nepal. (Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF-US)

All this is about to change thanks to Wildlife Insights, which uses artificial intelligence technology developed by Google to enable researchers to identify species in a fraction of a second, dramatically speeding up the pace at which this information can be processed and analyzed and making it available to decision-makers in near real-time. It is the most diverse camera-trap database in the world and allows users to explore millions of camera-trap records, filtering data by species, country and year.   

Wildlife Insights explore

This “on-demand” data and analysis can help inform a range of conservation efforts. Managers of protected areas or anti-poaching programs can gauge the health of specific species and governments can use the data to inform policies. For Ahumada, the fact that the public can use Wildlife Insights is also important: “We want citizen scientists, teachers and children to use this platform,” he said. “These are the future generations who will benefit from wildlife conservation.”

The platform is operated in partnership by Conservation International, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, World Wide Fund for Nature, the Zoological Society of London, Map of Life and Google.

To coincide with the launch of Wildlife Insights, Google released a short documentary film that tells the story of a camera trapper at Colombia’s Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute who is using Wildlife Insights to document and preserve the biological diversity in Caño Cristales, the country’s remote upper Amazon region. Google has also released a background video on how Wildlife Insights was developed.

The collection of camera trap data is expected to grow as selected organizations and researchers start uploading data early next year.

Organizations supporting Wildlife Insights include the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Google.

Quotes from Participating and Supporting Organizations:

“Without healthy wildlife populations, nature cannot provide the benefits people need to thrive. In the absence of wildlife, forests store less carbon, grasslands have disrupted nutrient cycles, plants get decimated by pests. Humanity urgently needs reliable, public and current information on wildlife populations to ensure we are conserving nature as a whole. Wildlife Insights is exactly the solution we need to put millions of camera trap images in the service of conservation. It is possible thanks to the combination of advanced technology, data sharing, interinstitutional partnerships and science-based analytics. It will change the way we manage protected areas, empower indigenous and local communities in conservation and bring the best data and science closer to decision makers.” Jorge A. Ahumada. Executive Director of Wildlife Insights and Senior Wildlife Conservation Scientist

"In the past, people who monitor wildlife using sensors like camera traps have had a significant big data challenge. Manually reviewing millions of images to find animals can be a needle-in-a-haystack problem. Optimizing the amount of time that humans spend reviewing wildlife data is a great problem for Google's AI and Google Cloud Platform to help solve. Wildlife Insights will put wildlife on the map, for the first time visualizing the world’s largest collection of camera trap-based wildlife observations. With wildlife data available for the world to see in near-real time, anyone can better understand where wildlife is, so we can better protect wild animals and their habitats."

Tanya Birch, Program Manager, Google Earth Outreach

Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) in the Zambezi Region of Namibia taken using a camera trap image using Camtraptions PIR motion sensor. (Will Burrard-Lucas/WWF-US)

“Wildlife Insights is a model for how science should be conducted — sharing information for the good of all. Data examined across broad landscapes is an unsurpassed monitoring tool. Wildlife Insights could be the Holy Grail that scientists need to better understand the status of threatened species, their surrounding ecosystems, and the threats that are impacting them — from climate change and land use to human activity.”

Steve Monfort, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

"In today’s increasingly digital age, big data and artificial intelligence have the power to transform the fate of many endangered species. Millions of unprocessed camera trap pictures and video languish on the hard drives of many individuals and organizations globally. Wildlife Insights promises to bring these images to life and apply them to decision-making in critical conservation projects and policies. We now have a chance to bend the curve of biodiversity decline with this critical global partnership."

 Margaret Kinnaird, Wildlife Practice Leader, WWF

Camera trap image taken by Will Burrard-Lucas using Camtraptions PIR motion sensor. (Will Burrard-Lucas / www.burrard-lucas.com)

“The earth is rapidly changing, and we need new ways to determine which animal species are adapting to change and which species may need help. Camera traps are effective tools in generating huge amounts of data, allowing scientists to collaborate with citizens to monitor animal species at increasingly larger scales.  Until now, this work has been limited by the technology needed to process the millions of animal photos produced by big surveys.  Wildlife Insights changes all of that by enabling efficient processing of this flood of data.  Together, WI’s advanced analytics and amazing pictures will help us illuminate the natural world and inspire its conservation.”

D. Reid Wilson, Chief Deputy Secretary, North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

“Humanity and the way we feed, fuel and finance our societies and economies is pushing nature and the services that power and sustain us to the brink. It’s crucial now more than ever that the conservation community comes together and collaborates with governments and industry, to develop new solutions which massively scale our combined impact and reverse this detrimental trend for both people and wildlife. Wildlife Insights is at the pinnacle of these ideals – harnessing the power of AI and providing citizens, companies and governments the ability to react with urgency – something biodiversity so desperately needs.”

Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation, Zoological Society of London

Jaguar in Volcan Barva, Braulio Carrillo National Park, Costa Rica. (TEAM Network and Organization for Tropical Studies)

“As a field-based organization working to protect nature’s strongholds, WCS relies on camera trap images as critical data points to help save everything from tigers in India to wolverines in the Arctic. Wildlife Insights is a quantum leap forward making it easy for users on the ground to leverage field-collected data for improved conservation effectiveness in protected areas around the world.”

Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO

“Wildlife Insights brings us closer towards having a publicly-accessible tool for practitioners to make timely decisions to protect wildlife globally. We’re pleased to support the launch of this multi-partner effort as a platform that will be open to the world.”

Aileen Lee, Chief Program Officer for Environmental Conservation at the Moore Foundation

“Wildlife Insights is a transformational platform that brings together the best science and technology to understand and conserve global wildlife. We are proud to support this important initiative and wish to see it grow and flourish in the future. We encourage and welcome efforts like Wildlife Insights that rely on collaborations by non-profit organizations, academics and the technology sector to develop permanent solutions for conservation.”

Lyda Hill, Founder, Lyda Hill Philanthropies

A demo of the platform is available here. Organizations interested in utilizing the platform can contact [email protected] for more information. Follow @WildlifeInsights on Facebook and Instagram and @WildInsights on Twitter.  

Header image: Female lion (Panthera leo) in the Zambezi Region of Namibia taken using a camera trap image using Camtraptions PIR motion sensor. (Credit: Will Burrard-Lucas/WWF-US)

Join the Wildlife Insights team in our camera trapping group to learn more about this tool. 

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