Do your bit: Help tag rare zebras and other African critters

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Keyboard conservationists have the chance to help out a wildlife project in Africa by tagging animals captured by motion-activated trail cameras.

WildCam Gorongosa is a new citizen science project where participants from around the world using computers or smartphones identify animals in photos taken by trail cameras. The data generated are then returned to scientists in Gorongosa National Park (GNP) to help with their research. With the high volume of photos, citizen scientists are an essential component of the WildCam project.

The rare Crawshay's Zebra, a subspecies of the pains zebra, is native to eastern Zambia, east of the Luangwa River, Malawi, southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique south to the Gorongoza District.
The rare Crawshay’s Zebra, a subspecies of the pains zebra, is native to eastern Zambia, east of the Luangwa River, Malawi, southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique south to the Gorongoza District. © Stfg – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Situated at the southernmost tip of the Great African Rift Valley in central Mozambique, GNP is home to an unusually high concentration of species, some of which are found only in GNP. Before Mozambique’s decades-long civil war, the park was especially known for its lions. But the ongoing fighting decimated the lion population, along with elephants, wildebeests, zebras, and other large animals. In the years since the war, GNP has formed partnerships with scientists to restore the Park and its wildlife.

A motion-activated trail camera takes a photo of a lion at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.
A motion-activated trail camera takes a photo of a lion at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. © wildcamgorongosa.org/Gorongosa National Park/HHMI

Gorongosa is home to a distinct subspecies of plains zebra, called Crawshay’s zebra (Equus quagga crawshayi). They live only in a relatively small area that spans eastern Zambia, Malawi, southeastern Tanzania, and Mozambique. Gorongosa’s zebras live at the southernmost part of this range. Crawshay’s zebras have thinner and denser black stripes, which extend all across their underbelly and all the way down to the hooves; there are never shadow-stripes (thin, light-brown stripes between the black ones). Their teeth are different to other zebras, in that their lower incisors lack an infundibulum, or dental cap. The infundibulum of a tooth is the funnel-like center that is filled with cementum and capped with enamel.

The pictures captured by the cameras provide a never-before-seen glimpse into the lives of animals in their natural environment. Baboons, elephants, and antelope make regular appearances. And participants might even identify animals that no-one has ever seen in person: The only hyena spotted in Gorongosa in the last 20 years was seen in a trail camera photo.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive developed WildCam Gorongosa in collaboration with GNP and the Zooniverse, a citizen science platform.

The Gorongosa Lion Project was established to monitor and support the recovery of the lion population in the Park. As part of that effort, the research team installed over 50 motion-activated trail cameras to see where lions are and how they move through the Park. These cameras produce around 1000 photos per camera per month, all of which have to be analyzed for evidence of lions and other wildlife.

Data from WildCam Gorongosa will not only inform the lion research, but will also benefit other critical research in the Park, including a study of herbivores. And as the project expands with more cameras in additional locations throughout the Park, even more information will be available for scientists working in Gorongosa.

Gorongosa

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