Wildlife Conservation Society – Camera Traps

Camera Trap Data Repository for Biodiversity Monitoring

Project Details

Grantee Organization: Wildlife Conservation Society
Grant Amount: $202,929
Contact: Timothy O'Brien
Contact Email: tobrien 'atsign' wcs.org
Funding Dates: 8/1/14-7/31/16

BackgroundWCS Logo

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) relies on published data but recognizes temperate zone bias in monitoring data and the time lag between data collection and publication. The CBD needs more data from the tropical regions and more timely data globally. Camera traps are an excellent monitoring tool to fill this need. Although camera trap projects generate vast amounts of primary data, much of these data remain unanalyzed. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is the largest single holder of camera trap data, but these data were held by many country programs and much of the data are not in a standardized format or proofed for public consumption. This project aimed to deliver online camera trap images and metadata from three tropical regions—Africa, Asia, and Latin/Central America—to support the CBD’s objectives and indicators.

Key Objectives and Activities

In partnership with Conservation International and Smithsonian Institution, WCS planned to organize 25 years-worth of legacy data (approximately 3 million images), publish these data online, make them available for analysis, and, ultimately, create a framework for coordinated data entry in the future, thereby improving the ability to deliver timely analyses of important wildlife conservation issues.

  • Objective 1: Preparation of images and metadata by 20 WCS country programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Objective 2: Development and distribution of training materials and instruction modules for online camera trap data management procedures.
  • Objective 3: Development of a functioning, searchable, online federated database for WCS data: Wildlife Insights.
  • Objective 4: Promotion of WCS data and use of data by the conservation community and the wider public.

Planned Outputs

  • The release of approximately 3 million images and associated metadata to be used to document patterns of mammal and bird diversity in the tropics
  • A registry where WCS and other users can publicize their data and their interest in sharing data, ensuring that interested parties know of the database: Wildlife Insights.
  • Technical assistance for online data management and the use of the Wildlife Insights website
  • Training materials for use of the database and publicity materials to promote data use
  • Links to other databases
  • Programming of service for batch image download
  • A publication on the database, data sharing, and data federation

Planned Outcomes

  • Adoption of this data management system by all WCS country programs, and ongoing annual contributions of data
  • WCS jaguar and tiger programs use database to analyze range-wide patterns of abundance in relation to prey abundance and diversity
  • WCS data incorporated into Global Biodiversity Outlook prepared by the Secretariat of the CBD, Living Planet Index (LPI), and TEAM-WPI (Wildlife Picture Index)

The primary aim of this project is to make data available to the following audiences:

  • WCS biologists who will benefit from having their data stored in a common format and in a single location. Such a database will facilitate meta-analyses across country programs, leading to a deeper understanding of the landscapes in which this project works.
  • National partners who will benefit because they will have easier access to the data and summarizations of data collected in their countries.
  • CBD policy makers who rely on indicators to help guide policy will have a new source of data to inform the decision making process via the WPI.
  • WCMC, GBIF, GEOBON –  these organizations are considered consumers/providers of biodiversity data. They locate data sources, ingest data, and output indicators. An open access camera trap database, updated in near-real time will be quite valuable to these organizations.
  • International conservation community – WWF and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) jointly maintain the LPI, which may immediately benefit from the release of the WCS database.
  • The conservation-minded public – There is growing public interest in camera trap photographs and the insights about wildlife that can be gained from camera trap images.

Last Updated: August 9th, 2017

Primary Software Platforms

WCS’s internal system is built using the open source DotNetNuke framework. Wildlife Insights, and TEAMnetwork.org have been developed and deployed to run on the open source system Drupal. Wildlife Insights is being hosted on HP technology using HP Vertica as the analytics engine.

Related Publications

  • O’Brien, TG; MF Kinnaird (2013). The Wildlife Picture Index: A biodiversity indicator for top trophic levels. In: Biodiversity Monitoring and Conservation: Bridging the Gaps Between Global Commitment and Local Action. (B Collen, N Pettorelli; S Durant; J Baillie; L Krueger, Eds.) Blackwell Publishing. pp 45-70. (link)
  • Meek, PD; G Ballard; A Claridge; R Kays; K Moseby; T O’Brien; A O’Connell; J Sanderson; DE Swann; M Tobler; S Townsend (2014) Recommended guiding principles for reporting on camera trapping research. Biodiversity and Conservation. 23(9): 2321 – 2343. DOI 10.1007/s10531-014-0712-8. (link)
  • Polisar, J; TG O’Brien; SM Matthews; JP Beckmann; E Sanderson; OC Rosas-Rosas; CA López-González (2014) Review of Jaguar Survey and Monitoring Techniques and Methodologies. Wildlife Conservation Society Final Report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to Solicitation F13PX01563, submitted March 27, 2014. 110 pp. (link)
  • Jansen, PA; J Ahumada; E Fegraus; T O’Brien (2014) TEAM: A standardized camera-trap survey to monitor terrestrial vertebrate communities in tropical forests. In: Camera Trapping in Wildlife Research and Management (Meek, PD; AG Ballard; PB Banks; AW Claridge; PJS Fleming; JG Sanderson; DE Swann; Eds.), CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, Australia. (link)
  • O’Brien, T (2015) An Annotated Bibliography of Camera Trap Literature: 1991-2013. WCS Working Paper No. 45. New York: Wildlife Conservation Society. 395 pp. (download)
  • O’Brien, T., Srindberg, S., and R. Wallace (2015) Measuring conservation effectiveness: occupancy-related metrics for wildlife. WCS Working Paper No. 46 New York: Wildlife Conservation Society. 57 pp. (download)
  • O’Brien, TG (2016) Camera traps for Conservation: Monitoring Protected Area Investments. In: Protected Areas: Are They Safeguarding Biodiversity? L. Joppa, J.G. Robinson and J. Baillie (eds.). Wiley-Blackwell. 288 pp.
  • Beaudrot L, Ahumada JA, O’Brien T, Alvarez-Loayza P, Boekee K, Campos-Arceiz A, et al. (2016) Standardized Assessment of Biodiversity Trends in Tropical Forest Protected Areas: The End Is Not in Sight. PLoS Biology. 14(1): e1002357. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002357 (link)
  • Forrester, T; O’Brien, T; Fegraus, E; Jansen, PA; Palmer, J; Kays, R; Ahumada, J; Stern, B; McShea, W. 2016. An open standard for camera trap data. Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e10197. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e10197 (link)


Project Results

By the conclusion of the project period, WCS had successfully launched an interactive database, as well as a summary map indicating data contribution by country. The database included 2.3 million records from 124 datasets contributed by 13 countries, with data from eight additional countries nearly proofed and ready for inclusion. The team was working to connect the WCS repository to Wildlife Insights, expecting that WCS data should ultimately be available via both outlets. WCS had hoped to complete a similar arrangement with eMammal, hosted by the Smithsonian Institution, but this has been delayed by logistical considerations on the part of SI. Technical manuals and other resources for formatting and submitting data are available on Wildlife Insights, to help maintain a high quality data resource. The site also hosts an analytic platform for calculating the Wildlife Picture Index (WPI). The WPI uses data from camera trap images to draw inferences about the status of animal populations, and how they are changing over time. Work to publicize the availability of the data, and solidify processes to contribute new data are still in progress.

Lessons Learned

The large scope of the project, aiming to assemble, standardize, and publish millions of images from more than 20 countries, even within a single global organization, required navigating complex technical, legal, and resource landscapes. Member countries have data that can be bound up in existing MOUs. In addition, other NGOs have cited concerns over lack of control over interpretation of data, the absence of an intellectual property policy defining image ownership, and insufficient technical capacity to handle the data as limiting their ability to contribute. Some of these concerns reflect the evolving attitudes toward perceived trade-offs in data sharing; guidelines and best practices are being developed for maintaining data accessibility while protecting both the data contributors and the animals the data document, many of which are threatened by poaching. Creativity and flexibility in developing partnerships that work for all parties, both within WCS and across institutional boundaries, are therefore essential tools for building and maintaining the availability of camera trap data.

Notwithstanding these challenges, this project has set the standard for publication of camera trap data, and created a sizable centralized resource for the global conservation community. Strong institutional partnerships, such as those with Conservation International, and the Smithsonian Institution, help assure a broad project reach and long term sustainability.

Project Director Biography

Dr. Tim O’Brien (B.S. Wildlife Ecology, M.Sc. Zoology, M.Stat., Ph.D. Wildlife Ecology) has worked for WCS since 1990 and is a Senior Scientist and Biometrician. He has worked in the USA, Latin America, Middle East, Asia and Africa. His research includes conservation of carnivores, primates and birds. Dr. O’Brien works on monitoring designs, and provides support for WCS country programs, including projects in the USA, Bolivia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, RO Congo, Indonesia, and Lao PDR. Dr. O’Brien is an authority on uses of camera traps in conservation. He also coordinates WCS sites for the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network.

Notes from JRS

This project expands JRS’ interest and experience to the realm of biodiversity image data from camera traps. Advances in digital photography and in low cost data storage have vastly increased the ability to record, store and access image data with associated meta data. We see more and more use of images among all of our grantees and advanced imaging techniques such as 3-D reconstruction. GPS-enabled telephones with high resolution cameras and citizen science apps are also generating a new flood of biodiversity images. WCS and its partners are the largest holders of camera trap images  and bringing these images into public access should be a major contribution to biodiversity research and monitoring around the world. We are pleased to add our investment to the considerable direct investment and in-kind contributions of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and of Hewlett Packard to the partnership and efforts of WCS, the Smithsonian Institution and Conservation International. We hope that the CameraTrapFederation.org website will become a place of real-time image sharing by WCS and their partners and also a robust and open platform where other organizations and researchers will share camera trap data that can be linked to other types of biodiversity occurrence data.

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