The Friday Fillip: Lions (No Tigers or Bears), Oh My!

The University of Minnesota Lion Project has been studying lions in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park for forty-five years. They’ve now decided to learn about the behaviour of the other species in the park. To do this they’ve set up 225 “camera traps” throughout the park, primed to grab snapshots when anything warmer than the surrounding environment triggers the sensors.

tanzania-mapAs you might imagine, the cameras that survive ants, elephants, hyenas and rain result in a lot of photographs. Because they’re scientists, the lion project people want to classify the photos — no science without counting. But no counting without identification, either. And computers are still (thankfully) less than good at saying what’s in a picture. So the project has turned to crowd sourcing for the necessary human eyeballs, and Snapshot Serengeti is the result. You’re invited to look at the snapshots and assist in their classification.

There’s a well-done interactive introduction that takes you through the steps that are involved. And then you’re cut loose in the serengeti with the wildebeests, rhinos, zebras, hares and a couple of dozen other companions.

You might think it’s easy-peasy. After all, you know a zebra when you see one. But do you see one? or two? In my training classification I had a wildebeest front and centre; but then, way in the back of the photo, there were some stripes; and, so the experts informed me, they belonged to not one but a pair of zebras, which — they ask about behaviour, because it’s important — were feeding, apparently. Clearly my eyes need sharpening.

So here’s a chance to go on safari at considerable savings to the management, and to take the kids along too.

If you want to learn more about the people behind the cameras, as it were, have a look at the accompanying blog. And to take your mind off wildlife for a moment, go to the official site for the Serengeti National Park, where, on the home page, you’ll find a beautiful shot of the land around Seronera, a small hamlet in the park. It’s taken by a webcam that reloads every few minutes, so there’s always something new to see. If your eyes are sharp enough.


  1. Very cool! Thanks for sharing.