Stuck in an airport this holiday season? Hiding from extended family? Or just looking to take a mobile phone safari?
The Instant Wild app, free and newly released by the Zoological Society of London, streams images to your iPhone or iPad from camera traps in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Mongolia and England's Whipsnade Zoo. Images can also be seen via browser.
"It's amazing for people to just be sitting in their office or walking in the street and have these images pop up," said Jonathan Baillie, conservation program director at EDGE of Existence, a ZSL program. "I find myself in board rooms and conferences and hotels a lot, and I'd rather be in the field."
The ZSL and its partners run a network of 50 camera traps around the world. They're used to monitor biodiversity and generally keep a technological finger on local pulses, but checking each trap and manually processing the images is a time-consuming task.
Five cameras have now been configured to upload images to Instant Wild, where citizen conservationists are asked to help identify each animal. "If enough people identify something as a lion or an elephant shrew, we can be pretty sure that's what it is," Baillie said. "When there's high certainty, we don't have to check the data. If there's low certainty, we look at the data. It reduces the amount of time needed by hours and hours."
For viewers and the ZSL, the prize sightings are endangered animals -- African wild dogs and black rhinoceros in Kenya, Przewalski's horses in Mongolia, leopards in Sri Lanka, even a rare-to-the-UK species of European hare at the Whipsnade Zoo. But the steady parade of animals captured with camera trap candor is a treat in itself. In the near future, cameras will be added from Nepal and Indonesia. "We hope to have many more cameras," said Baillie.
On the following pages are photographs of animals still awaiting conclusive crowd identification.
Images: EDGE of Existence/Zoological Society of London
Brandon is a Wired Science reporter and freelance journalist. Based in Brooklyn, New York and sometimes Bangor, Maine, he's fascinated with science, culture, history and nature. Follow @9brandon on Twitter.