News / Calgary

A whole new Zooniverse: Calgary opening wildlife cams up to public

The city wants you to help them identify critters in city parks with new citizen science portal

Do you know what this animal is? The city will soon be asking locals to help them identify local wildlife at various locations to help them study our animal neighbours.

Courtesy / City of Calgary

Do you know what this animal is? The city will soon be asking locals to help them identify local wildlife at various locations to help them study our animal neighbours.

Calgarians will soon be able to log onto citizen science website Zooniverse and help the city classify photos of local wildlife, which will, in turn, help scientists better understand our animal neighbours.

Chris Manderson, urban conservation lead for Calgary Parks, said this will allow the city to do more research with less money—while hopefully getting residents excited about wildlife.

"It's a really cool way for people to have an insight on what goes on in our parks, connect to the landscape, and our parks," he said. "The cities that have done this, it's proven to be popular."

The website will show users photos of animals taken by the city's new network of wildlife cameras set up in local parks. Each image will be accompanied by several animal options, with written descriptions of each species.

Once the user selects an option, the website will also tell you what that animal is typically mistaken for.

In order to increase the chances of success, an image is classified by five to eight different users before it disappears from the platform.

Manderson said a task that would take staff thousands of hours can be accomplished by citizens in a week, without the city lifting a finger.

"It's something we could never afford to do, so the value we get is pretty awesome," Manderson said.

For the first year, he said they'll be checking on the results to ensure users identifications are accurate.

Images will be released in batches and once the classifications are complete they will be entered into the city's data.

Shelley Alexander, a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary, said wildlife camera images can be difficult to interpret even if you're an expert, so having extra people to examine photos is helpful.

"It's a great idea, it downloads all that research to the people who are on the ground," Alexander said. "Citizen science is a really important source of data, certainly I found that in my own research."

The city will pay $90,000 for the system over two years, including the wildlife cameras, website, and it will cost $35,000 annually to operate it.

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