The animal kingdom is getting its very own social network, but instead of vacation pics and baby announcements, it will be filled with data that could help conservationists save species from extinction.
Wildbook is open-source software built to keep track of wildlife. Researchers can upload images taken from the field, but a significant source of data comes from scraping sites like Flickr and YouTube for pictures and videos that people post from trips like whale watching tours and safaris. Using deep learning, Wildbook’s platform spots the same individual in different images, letting conservationists track creatures through their lifetime as well as gain a better idea of population sizes.
Other data can be added—like the animal’s sex, age, where it was location photographed, what other individual was nearby, or even the weather—that fills out what is known about an individual and its preferences. Each animal gets its own profile to track sightings.
The team behind Wildbook, the nonprofit Wild Me, currently builds a new site for each species but is working on the project’s next iteration—a massive database with as many different kinds of animals as possible. Individual Wildbooks have helped researchers better understand what’s going on with specific species. But give machine learning algorithms enough data and it could uncover previously unknown insights about what makes animals thrive or die. These discoveries will supercharge conservation efforts and benefit populations across the world.
“The vision is one Wildbook to rule them all,” says Tanya Berger-Wolf, a professor at the University of…