Public invited to join citizen science effort to identify rare animals deep in the forest

Wildlife enthusiasts are being invited to contribute to a vital conservation project to help protect threatened animal species in Equatorial Guinea.

The project sees hundreds of camera trap images uploaded to a website, which the public can access from anywhere in the world, to join the effort to identify animals in the pictures.

Forest elephants, chimpanzees and mandrills are among the animals that have been identified so far, photographed on cameras which trigger automatically based on movement.

Conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society set up 27 cameras deep in the tropical forest of Monte Alén National Park in Equatorial Guinea over a 15-month period. Now the images are being uploaded to the Instant Wild website and shared publicly for the first time.

Dr Grainne McCabe, Head of Field Conservation and Science at Bristol Zoological Society, leads the Equatorial Guinea project. She said: “The camera trap photographs provide a fantastic insight into what is in the forest and we can learn a lot from them.

“We’ve seen lots of chimps and mandrills which is wonderful, but I would have expected to see more, and we aren’t seeing the breadth of species that we would expect.

“For instance, we haven’t seen any red capped mangabeys, a large bodied monkey that should be in this area, and few gorillas or pangolins, but we still have more images to be catalogued yet.”

Dr McCabe said surveys undertaken in the 1990s showed more than 15 species of primates living within the National Park, but they have seen nowhere near that many on the camera trap images thus far.

Dr McCabe also said the images showed worrying levels of hunting in the area. “We have seen a lot of hunters in the photographs,” she said. “Levels of hunting inside the protected area are very high and so we have always been very concerned about the risk to a number of species living in this area.

“It is illegal to hunt or consume primates, but meat from forest animals, known as wild meat, is regularly being sold at the side of the road or at markets. This meat is considered a delicacy in the cities, and so is worth a lot of money.

“Also, during lockdown many villages have been cut off from supermarkets and so have become more reliant on wild meat.”

Dr McCabe said the photographs are crucial in helping to establish a conservation plan for the park. “We will be able to work alongside the national park to find areas where patrols should be targeted to prevent illegal hunting for example,” she said.

The photos were taken by a series of cameras set up by conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society and the University of West of England (UWE Bristol).

Four of the cameras were donated by Instant Wild, which is a collaborative project between National Geographic and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

To find out more or to get involved with the project, visit the Instant Wild website.

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