Why do ecotourists travel thousands of miles to catch glimpses of rare, exotic animals, when they could get long, lingering looks at them just by turning on their TV? Well, partly because it's fun to travel. Also, however, it's a lot more exciting when you never know what you're going to see, or when, or where. While it's not quite as epic as trekking through the African Savannah, the Zoological Society of London's Instant Wild App is bringing that same sort of wilderness-lottery-like excitement to the iPhone. Users can subscribe to feeds from camera traps located in several areas of the world, and will receive photos of the animals that trigger those traps, as they're triggered. While that might be neat enough in and of itself, users can then proceed to help conservationists protect those creatures.
Instant Wild is one facet of the ZSL's EDGE of Existence program, with EDGE standing for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered species. One of the aims of the program is to raise awareness of unique, endangered species around the world, along with developing conservation strategies for those animals. In order to do so, the EDGE conservations need to ascertain what species are present in what places, and in what sort of numbers.
For anyone who's never watched a Bigfoot documentary, a camera trap is simply an unmanned still camera that is set up in the wilderness, that snaps an image whenever its motion sensor detects movement. EDGE has a number of such cameras set up in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Mongolia and the UK. The team members must sort through the images captured by these cameras, trying to identify the animals in the shots - an activity that can take countless hours.
That's where the app comes in.
Once they have received a new photo, Instant Wild users are invited to identify the photographed creature by cross-referencing its photo with those in a provided digital field guide for the region. Not only does this help free the EDGE team members up for more field work, but it's a much more productive form of smartphone entertainment than, say, playing Angry Birds.
People who don't do the iPhone thing can also participate online, via the EDGE of Existence website.