Camera traps provide treasure trove of African animal pics

bushbuck photographed by camera trap

Antelope are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but they only showed up in a small number of the camera trap images from Snapshot Serengeti. Zebras and wildebeest — noted for their impressive migration through this region — were the most common photo subjects.

SnapshotSerengeti

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Rarely is a data dump this adorable.

The researchers behind Snapshot Serengeti, a project that placed hundreds of camera traps across Serengeti National Park in Tanzania from 2010 to 2013, have released their dataset to the public in the hopes that the imagery will be used by others for research and educational purposes.

Serengeti National Park is home to iconic African wildlife, as well as one of the world’s greatest animal migrations. Every year, 1.6 million wildebeest and zebras migrate from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara in Kenya and back again, following the rain. More than 200 camera traps were set up on a grid that covered the entire park in an effort to collect data on all the larger predator and prey species that traverse the area.

With the cameras snapping continuously for three years, researchers amassed a collection of 1.2 million images, of which 322,653 contained animals. Volunteers in a citizen-science project then classified the animals, identifying 48 species and species groups (such as the broad category of “rodents”).

Not surprisingly, wildebeest and zebras dominate the collection. But the traps also managed to capture some rare critters, such as zorillas (African skunk), genets (which look like cats but are related to mongoose) and aardwolves.

“We anticipate broad interdisciplinary re-use of these datasets with applications that span basic and applied ecology, citizen-science research, machine learning, and computer vision,” Alexandra Swanson of the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, and colleagues write June 9 in Scientific Data.

And the images are just plain fun to look at. There are lion moms with their cubs, animals caught carrying kills and groups clearly on the move. Some images look beautiful enough to have been captured on purpose. And there are enough animal butt shots that Science News considered creating a gallery for your viewing pleasure. But my favorite has got to be the portraits. Some animals, whether by accident or curiosity, were caught staring into the camera, creating an image that looks almost like they know we’re watching them.

Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti
Cameras set up across Serengeti National Park from 2010 to 2013 captured a wide variety of animals from all angles. SnapshotSerengeti

Editor’s note: The caption on the main image was updated on June 9, 2015, to say antelope instead of bushbuck (a type of antelope). The type of antelope pictured hasn’t been confirmed. 

Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is managing editor of Science News for Students. She has a B.A. in biology from Cornell University and an M.A. in journalism from New York University. She writes about ecology, plants and animals.

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