Imaging scientists crowd-source count of Kenyan wildlife

Tanya Berger-Wolf in Kenya

Tanya Berger-Wolf, UIC professor of computer science, at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. She directed design of a software to analyze photos for information on animal populations. (Select photo to download)

 

To celebrate Kenya’s wildlife heritage, the Kenyan Wildlife Service is hosting a Wildlife Festival, and invites anyone with a camera — students, citizens and wildlife enthusiasts of every stripe — to photograph as many zebras and giraffes as possible at the Nairobi National Park.

The crowd-sourcing count of zebras and giraffes will take place on March 1 and 2. The festival runs Feb. 28 to March 7.

“Their photos will contribute to our knowledge of the ecology and conservation of the zebras and giraffes who live there,” says University of Illinois at Chicago computational ecologist Tanya Berger-Wolf, who directs the overall design of IBEIS, the software that will analyze the photographs.

“IBEIS will provide the final count of the number of zebras and giraffes in the park,” said Berger-Wolf, who is associate professor of computer science at UIC.

IBEIS (Image-Based Ecological Information System) can take collections of images from field scientists, tourists, and incidental photographers — or gathered from camera traps, robots or drones — and answer queries about population size, species interactions, movement patterns, and other data. It was developed by a collaboration of scientists from UIC, Princeton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the nonprofit WildMe.org.

IBEIS can detect various species of animals in photo images and identify individual animals “of most striped, spotted, wrinkled or notched species — much like recognizing a person by a fingerprint,” Berger-Wolf said.

“IBEIS stores information about who the animals are, where and when they are there, and provides tools that scientists and curious people can use to find out what those animals are doing and why they are doing it.”

Such information, she said, can “provide a great tool for basic science and for improving management and conservation of animals.” IBEIS was piloted at the Mpala Research Centre and Ol’Pejeta Nature Conservancy in Kenya. The first full prototype was deployed last month at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.

Princeton University ecologist Daniel Rubenstein directs the biological aspects of IBEIS design and deployment. Charles Stewart, computer vision scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, oversees the image analysis engine for individual animal identification, based on the foundation of his software HotSpotter. Jason Holmberg, a data management expert with WildMe.org, created the WildBook, which powers the IBEIS data management system.

Support for IBEIS development has been provided by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft Research, and private donations.