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Citizen Science

Conservation Cameras

From the Wild to Your Classroom

Instant Wild invites you to contribute to conservation research from your computer. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) launched Instant Wild nearly a decade ago to help researchers analyze camera trap data and concurrently engage the public in wildlife conservation.

Today, over three million observations have been made on Instant Wild, and the platform includes 14 unique project field sites (see “Instant Wild Project Collection” under Helpful Project Links). The ZSL describes Instant Wild as “conservation at your fingertips,” and National Geographic has recently joined the project partnership. One of the first project sites associated with the National Geographic partnership was the Osa Camera Trap Network in Costa Rica. This network spans two National Parks as well as a forest reserve corridor that connects the two parks (see “Osa Conservation” and “Osa Camera Trap Network”). The area is home to the jaguar and a number of other wild cats (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is home to the jaguar and is designated as critical habitat for the species which has been impacted by habitat loss, fragmentation, and a reduction in available prey due to human activities (including poaching).

The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is home to the jaguar and is designated as critical habitat for the species which has been impacted by habitat loss, fragmentation, and a reduction in available prey due to human activities (including poaching).

Instant Wild’s Osa Camera Trap Network project is interested in tracking native wild cats and their prey; your students can be a part of this exciting study! With Instant Wild citizen science, learners are able to participate in wildlife conservation research from the classroom or any location with computer access.

Project goal: Help researchers track the abundance of wildlife species, such as wild cats and their prey, in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula area.

Your task: Contribute to conservation science and increase knowledge of wildlife species.

Science discipline: Life and Environmental Science

Instant Wild projects include images that are generated from motion-sensored camera traps. Camera trap images can be thought of as “wildlife selfies,” and the devices are not disruptive to the animal or its behavior. When an animal passes by the camera, the device takes a photo, and the photo is shared on Instant Wild for identification.

To introduce the concept of camera traps and wildlife conservation to your class, begin with a guided whole-class activity. First, choose a photo from the Instant Wild project database and share the wildlife image with your class (see “Instant Wild Project Collection”). Ask students to generate observations based on viewing the image. Then, invite learners to share their observations with the class. After the class shares out, ask students what additional questions they may have from looking at the image. Discuss the questions as a class.

Instant Wild has an online tutorial; however, students can begin the project without training, as best guesses for species identification are accepted (see “Instant Wild Tutorial”). An account is not needed to participate in the project, but with an account, students will be able to accumulate points and earn badges for their work. Badges will be earned at milestones, such as the number of endangered species documented as well as the total number of identifications made over time.

Materials you will need:

  • Computer or device with internet connection (free mobile applications are available as well)
  • After immersing in Instant Wild citizen science online, reviewing project research questions, identifying diverse wildlife species in their native habitats, and asking further questions, students cultivate competence in:
  • formulating testable research questions about wildlife and the environment
  • exploring uses and roles of data in scientific research
  • reviewing data-collection methods
  • interpreting graphs of data
  • generating graphs from data, such as creating a graph of animal activity patterns (e.g., graphing the number of ocelots that are active at various times: morning, midday, dusk, and overnight)
  • calculating ratios and proportions (such as the number of a specific species observed out of the total number of wildlife images reviewed)

Encourage students to brainstorm what else could be done with the data that are associated with the camera trap images—for example, have students think about diverse ways in which the data could be visualized.

As a final wrap-up activity, challenge students to design a hypothetical camera trap study for their local geographic area. The study site(s) could include the schoolyard, a backyard, a local park, or other site(s) of interest. Ask students to discuss possible research questions to test, along with hypotheses, proposed materials and methods, and plans for data collection and dissemination of findings. Class discussions related to camera trap conservation science often lead to meaningful connections and insights at the confluence of conservation science, technology, and data. Students may have novel ideas to address real-world challenges facing wildlife in the 21st century using technology tools and data visualization. Finally, June involves World Environment Day (and Selfie Day!), and both days can be celebrated with memorable Instant Wild citizen science in the classroom (see “Instant Wild World Selfie Day”).

Instant Wild at a glance

When: Anytime

How: Participants can get started online without creating an account; however, creating an account can help students earn badges marking milestones in their work. See “Project Home” and the “Project Page on SciStarter” to create an account.

Where: Anywhere

Time needed: Variable; 30 minutes to as much time as desired

Special equipment needed: None

Cost: No cost to participate

Contact for more information:

Safety: As with any science lab, classroom, or field activity, always ensure that you are following recommended safety practices; for more information on safety in the science classroom visit

Helpful Project Links

Instant Wild Project Home—

Instant Wild Project Collection—

Osa Camera Trap Network Project Home—

Instant Wild Tutorial—

Instant Wild Overview Video—

Osa Conservation—

Osa Camera Trap Network—

Project page on SciStarter—

Project page on SciStarter Education—

Video: Getting Started with Instant Wild—

Video: Instant Wild Program overview from SciStarter Educator Webinar—

Instant Wild World Selfie Day—




Jill Nugent ( teaches science online, engages educators in citizen science experiences for the classroom, schoolyard, and beyond, and serves on the SciStarter Team. Follow SciStarter on Twitter: @SciStarter.




This column is the result of a partnership between SciStarter and the National Science Teaching Association. For more information about SciStarter and other citizen science projects, please visit















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