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'Snapshot Serengeti' taps citizen scientists to track wildlife

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Serengeti lions
A photo captured through Snapshot Serengeti. The project, developed by University of Minnesota researchers uses volunteer "citizen scientists" to sift through images captured by more than 200 heat-and-motion-activated cameras over a 1,000-square-mile grid of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
Courtesy University of Minnesota

It's been about seven months since Snapshot Serengeti first asked for the public's help cataloging the millions of photos that have been captured by heat-and-motion-activated cameras in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

See some of the photos at The Daily Circuit blog.

Ali Swanson, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, has been pleased with the results. The project asks citizens to identify photos of animals -- and they've been right 96 percent of the time.

"Citizen science is awesome because it challenges our idea that only experts can do science," Swanson told The Daily Circuit's Tom Weber. "We have many people looking at one photograph. While a single individual might not be great, when you put everyone's answers all together they're actually really good."

The photos allow scientists to get data that would normally be very difficult to obtain. "Things change so much from year to year that it's really through this long-term monitoring that we stand to have a chance of saying something bigger about how everything comes together," Swanson said. "Camera traps are going to revolutionize the way ecological research is done.

"A handful of photos is an anecdote. Millions of photographs put together tells a story. And a story that carries statistical significance as well."

RELATED: Ali Swanson on The Daily Circuit when Snapshot Serengeti first launched (Dec. 12, 2012)