eMammal — founded by N.C. State University researcher Roland Kays — allows citizen scientists to collaborate with researchers to document animals in the wild using infrared camera technology.
Staff writer Kent McDonald spoke with Kays about the project, conservation and his upcoming book, “Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature,” available this May.
The Daily Tar Heel: What is eMammal?
Roland Kays: eMammal is a way to manage camera traps’ images and data. It’s specifically designed to work with citizen scientists. One of the things we’re finding is scientists are running more and more camera traps all around the world and basically get so many millions of photographs that it becomes difficult to deal with them all.
Furthermore, it’s easier to engage for citizens who have camera traps who can basically help scientists do the research, get to participate in some of the fun of seeing the animals, seeing what animals live where — they can use eMammal to basically send their pictures to our research project.
DTH: What is the technology used in these camera traps?
RK: It is a motion sensor and a digital camera. So, as an animal walks by, they trigger a motion sensor and the camera takes a series of pictures and saves them to a memory card ... Only recently have the cameras really gotten good enough and cheap enough to where we can really use them on a big scale. So one of the things we’re excited about is having citizen scientists helping us run more cameras than we actually could ever run ourselves, which allows us to collect the data we need over large areas and from year to year.
DTH: How are these photos affecting scientific research and our understanding of these species?
RK: It lets you see which species are using certain areas. There are a whole bunch of different research questions you could ask about that, but most of them ... have to do with how humans and animals can share the planet.
DTH: How has this technology influenced conservation efforts?
RK: It does in two ways — one is it collects important data about the animals, so you know which species live where. But the other side of things that’s really important is it gets these pictures that are really engaging. If you’re dealing with citizen scientists, you’re even getting people involved so they understand what animals are living and they become local advocates for conservation. Even if it’s just scientists running cameras, pictures are great for sharing the results, for getting people excited about the animals.
That’s a lot of what I try to do in my book — was to collect all these pictures from scientists all around the world and show the public this sort of fun side, amazingly beautiful side of nature that scientists have been enjoying for so long and sort of help try to engage a larger community in this conversation about saving the environment.
DTH: What inspired you to write your upcoming book, “Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature”?
RK: I figured every scientist probably has one of these greatest hits folders and so basically the idea was to draw from that the global collection of pictures that scientists have been gathering to tell the story and discoveries they had been making.
DTH: What are some of your favorite photos from the book?
RK: Some of my favorites were the chimpanzee and gorilla pictures. They’re just so human-like and each individual looks different ... It very much reminds me of a family portrait you’d get of humans.