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  • Instant Wild is an initiative by the Zoological Society of London. Photos or videos of animals are recorded using hidden cameras in a range of worldwide locations. The aim is to increase the knowledge needed to better protect wildlife and secure a richer biodiversity for the future.

    Participation in the project can be done at any time by computer or free app. By recognising, labelling and categorising animals, students provide vital information for scientists monitoring the location of species.

    This online citizen science (OCS) project lends itself well to developing an appreciation of the range of species worldwide and developing students’ ability to observe and classify.

    Rights: Instant Wild, Zoological Society of London

    Instant Wild

    This online citizen science project asks citizens to identify and categorise a range of animals in photos or video collected by hidden cameras in Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Kenya and the UK.


    Reach: Worldwide

    Nature of science focus: Online citizen science projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.

    Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data

    Science focus: Ecology

    Some suggested science concepts:

    • Scientists classify living things and group them according to their shared features.
    • All animals have adaptive features – structural (teeth, feet, colourings) or behavioural (calls, migration) – that enable them to survive.
    • We need to look carefully to group animals that are quite similar.

    Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.

    Some examples of learning outcomes:

    Students can:

    • observe closely to identify a number of different animal species
    • classify animals into groups based on their shared features
    • relate an animal’s structural or behavioural features to how an animal survives.
    Rights: Instant Wild, Zoological Society of London

    Plains zebra or Grevy’s zebra?

    Instant Wild has photos and information on different species to aid identification of the animal. Here, careful observation was required to identify the type of zebra using a wildlife corridor in Kenya.

    About Instant Wild

    You can sign up or take part in this OCS as a guest. Through the website you can choose whether you are analysing photos/video from Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Kenya or the UK. A tutorial helps guide you in what to do.

    The website is well set up and easy to follow. Photo analysis requires you to decide if an animal is a primate, cat, dog, mammal, bird and so on. It then gives you a more detailed list of species to choose from. Greater observational skill is required here in order to try to determine differences between species. Additional information is available if required. After you have categorised the animal, another photo/video appears.

    The project counts your identifications and has a reward system to encourage you to make many identifications. You can also make a comment and interact with others making similar identifications. While you cannot see the data you have submitted, occasional updates are posted about each of the projects being monitored.

    Some useful conversations can be had around why scientists need assistance in categorising all of these photos/videos and how they make sure that the data collection is reliable.

    Nature of science

    Using this OCS gives opportunities to discuss how scientists might use the collective data from photos/videos to monitor species numbers and distribution. Students can also consider the challenges for scientists in analysing large datasets themselves and appreciate how involving citizen scientists can help speed up the scientists’ work.

    Related content

    Elephant ID wants help from citizen scientists around the world to help ID African elephant ears to assist with conservation planning.

    Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington set up a similar study to investigate the number of invasive mammals in Wellington – see the article Invasive animals in cities. In Taranaki’s Project Hotspot, citizen scientists record sightings of key native species along the coastline and marine environment. The Ahi Pepe MothNet project explains how to trap and identify native moths. Students and scientists teamed up to monitor Otago Harbour as part of a citizen science initiative Sediment and Seashores: What are the Consequences? using Marine Metre Squared for science protocols and species identification.

    The Ministry of Education’s Connected series includes a level 3 article on migration, On the Move, including teacher support material.

    Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.

    Useful links

    News reports are published by Instant Wild about its projects.

    The Ministry of Education’s Building Science Concepts series includes Book 39: Is it an Animal? Introducing the Animal Kingdom and Book 55: Mammals: Investigating a Group of Animals.


    This outline was written as part of Victoria University of Wellington’s Citizen Scientists in the Classroom project funded by the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.

      Published 22 March 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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