Selfies from the Serengeti
Smile! Scientists wanting to gain insight into the life of animals in the famous Serengeti installed several hundred camera traps. The result: 322,000 animal selfies, ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking.
A curious antelope is one of the stars of the picture collection. The project Snapshot Serengeti is the largest scientific camera survey ever conducted: It took 28,000 volunteers to sort through, catalogue and analyze the images.
Close, closer - too close
… and, click! A vulture examines the scientists' camera trap. It is one of 255 cameras across 1,125 square kilometers (434 square miles) in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, one of the largest national parks worldwide.
In photos taken between 2010 and 2013, researchers identified 40 different mammals total. This warthog was caught during its daily hygiene routine: Oxpeckers feed on parasites - particularly ticks - on the warthog's skin. Bon appetit!
Very often, the cameras were triggered by the movement of nearby plants, or high temperatures. But out of 1.2 million shots, 320,000 did indeed capture animals - sometimes also getting into mischief. Here, a little zebra foal dares to stray from the herd, and explore the unknown surrounding without its mother.
According to scientist Alexandra Swanson, who conducted the survey, camera traps have revolutionized ecology and conservation research in the past 20 years. They capture scenes that otherwise would be difficult to witness - such as this hyena's successful hunt at night.
True nature, not romance
He might be the king of the savannah, but he's still vulnerable: This lion's wounds are clearly visible. The camera trap cannot tell us the story behind the injury, but it gets us closer than any human eye could.
Camera traps by now have moved into the field of big data. In scientific research, the "selfies" are used in algorithms that model and predict developments in the whole ecosystem. And sometimes, the cameras seem to become more of a focus than the photo subjects themselves.
Science - and conservation
The Serengeti snapshots are scientifically valuable, no doubt. But they might also help toward conservation efforts. After seeing how quirky and cheeky animals can be when nobody is watching, who wouldn't want to protect these cuties?