Join U of M lion researchers in bringing the Serengeti to the web

The camera trapping produces a million images a year, but since the   researcher

The camera trapping produces a million images a year, but since the researchers don’t have Internet access, they have to put them on flash drives or disks and take them back to the University to be recorded and analyzed.

“Crowdfunding” strategy relies on small donations

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/03/2011) —Imagine being an invisible presence in Serengeti National Park, watching lions, zebras, wildebeests and hyenas stroll a couple of feet away, with no idea that you are watching them. Perhaps a cheetah comes close enough to rub noses.

You can get a sense of what that’s like at www.rockethub.com/projects/3725-serengeti-live. In the video, Craig Packer, who is one of 49 scientists nationwide participating in the first SciFund Challenge, http://rockethub.com/projects/scifund , explains how the public can become involved in his research. His goal is simply to raise $14,000 over the next several weeks for an Internet connection to put the Serengeti online by soliciting small donations in exchange for access to the site. The challenge began Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15.

Packer, the University of Minnesota’s world-renowned authority on lion behavior and Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Biological Sciences, is asking you to help him bring the Serengeti to a computer near you. In exchange, he’ll provide you with a window into his world.

Packer, doctoral student Ali Swanson, and a crew of students and staff have placed approximately 200 heat-and-motion-activated cameras over a 1,000-square-mile grid of the Serengeti in order to capture very detailed images of how predatory mammals co-exist within their habitat.

The camera trapping produces a million images a year, but since the researchers don’t have Internet access, they have to put them on flash drives or disks and take them back to the University to be recorded and analyzed. It sometimes takes months. For only $14,000, they could shorten that to seconds.

“This is the most exciting and engaging field research we have ever done,” says Packer, who has conducted field research in the Serengeti for 33 years. National media, including the New York Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian and Discover have reported many of Packer’s previous studies.

The camera trap survey began as fieldwork for Swanson’s Ph.D. research on carnivore coexistence.

“Understanding how lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas coexist can inform our understanding of coexistence in other systems where species kill or steal food from each other,” she said. “This knowledge has broad implications for management of protected areas, especially with large carnivores.”

The SciFund Challenge is harnessing the power of “crowdfunding” to support scientific research. Crowdfunding works by funding projects through many small donations solicited over the Internet in a short timeframe. Typically, the challenges are fun and creative and offer some kind of incentive. Relatively common in the arts and journalism, crowdfunding is new to science.

Other SciFund Challenge projects focus on sea turtles, ancient Roman DNA, the effects of climate change on corals, urban butterflies, artificial photosynthesis and cellulosic biofuels.

To learn more about the Serengeti Lion Project, Packer (packer [a] umn (p) edu) or Swanson (swanson.ali [a] gmail (p) com).


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  • Last modified on November 4, 2011



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