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Citizen Science

A Window to the Wild

The Science Teacher—January/February 2021 (Volume 88, Issue 3)

By Jill Nugent

Instant Wild (Conservation at Your Fingertips) brings real-time feeds of wildlife from around the globe directly into homes and classrooms. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) launched Instant Wild nearly a decade ago to help researchers analyze data from camera traps and to engage the world in wildlife conservation though citizen science. Recently, National Geographic became a partner of Instant Wild, and one of the first projects associated with the partnership is the Osa Camera Trap Network in Costa Rica (See Figure 1).

In the Instant Wild Osa Camera Trap Network Project, students are invited to monitor and track wild cats including jaguar, ocelot, and puma, as well as their prey, such as collared peccary. The online citizen science project also monitors other large mammals, such as tapirs. The monitoring area covered by the Osa Camera Trap Network spans two Costa Rican national parks as well as a forest reserve corridor that connects the two parks (See “Osa Conservation” and “Osa Camera Trap Network”).

Instant Wild provides educators with a budget-friendly option to integrate high-impact authentic science in the classroom. Learners can engage in the online project from wherever they are located. Students will have the opportunity to take part in 21st-century conservation research and will gain a glimpse into wild spaces around the globe, while helping researchers analyze data at scale to address pressing conservation questions relating to some of the planet’s most endangered wildlife species.

Project goal: Help researchers monitor the abundance of wild cat species (and their prey) in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula area

Your task: Contribute to science and learn more about wildlife species

Science discipline: Life and Environmental Science

Instant Wild images are generated from motion-triggered camera traps deployed in natural areas around the globe. When an animal passes by a camera, the device takes a photo that is shared in real time for identification. In some remote areas where connectivity can be a challenge, field researchers will upload batches of images for identification and review by citizen scientists.

There are nearly 130,000 images in the Osa Camera Trap Network Project. Students will help identify the wildlife in the images. Best guesses are acceptable and although no prior experience is needed, an online tutorial is available (See “Instant Wild Tutorial”). Weather impacts (such as fog in the rainforest) can sometimes cause cloudy images; in these instances, participants can tag photos to indicate that an animal is not visible in the image. Students can start identifying species online immediately without an account; however, by creating an account and logging in, they will be able to accumulate points and even earn badges for their work. Badges are earned at milestones, such as the number of endangered species seen and the total number of identifications made over time.

Instant Wild utilizes an algorithm that operates on a consensus basis. When there are 10 matching species level identifications for an image, the system will accept the agreed upon species identification. In other words, if 10 participants identify an image as an ocelot, the system will accept the species identification from the consensus among the 10 identical identifications. Collective community effort serves as the driver for species identifications. Registered participants receive accuracy scores and over time the accuracy score will increase when the number of species identifications play a role in positive consensus identifications. It is important to note that Instant Wild participant accounts that have not been active for five months will be removed and inactivated.

Materials you will need:

Over three million identifications have been made on Instant Wild, and the platform continually evolves in functionality and in the number of available projects (See “Instant Wild Project Collection”). Instant Wild projects use the camera trap as a tool to help research specific conservation questions. The platform has been effective in engaging participants from around the world in conservation efforts. Students will enjoy taking a virtual field trip with Instant Wild as they work alongside researchers to track wildlife in protected areas, help identify species of conservation interest, and monitor habitat. Instant Wild provides a meaningful way for learners to make important contributions to conservation though science.

Figure 1
Students will identify wildlife species from online camera trap images

Students identify wildlife species from online camera trap images.

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 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:

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

Citizen Science Earth & Space Science Instructional Materials High School

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