By Grant Harris

Remote trail cameras capture millions of images of ocelots, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, birds and other wildlife sparring, visiting water, foraging, marking territory and more within the National Wildlife Refuge System. But before those images can be useful for scientific purposes, they must be sorted and labeled.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region inventory and monitoring team, there’s an app for that.

It’s called Moniker, and it’s available free at the App Store for iPhone and iPad users.

At New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge alone, 36 cameras amassed 2.7 million images in four years. Typically, sorting that mountain of imagery for scientific analysis means bribing family, friends, volunteers and neighbors. Meanwhile, more cameras are positioned and the imagery backlog mushrooms.

The Moniker app allows anyone, anywhere to sort camera-trap imagery. The crowd-sourcing approach helps manage the imagery backlog, while the app helps generate public appreciation of America’s wildlife that the Service manages and conserves. In return, the Service obtains sorted images useful for addressing management and conservation priorities.

“Biologists often depend on those photographs to help them understand what is happening on the ground,” says Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle. “Trail camera images actually help them make better decisions about wildlife and habitat management because they provide a definitive snapshot record of the species that are out there ... Staff can spend their time in the field doing more hands-on conservation and still have the information support they need from the images.”

The app operates by downloading 15 still (not video) images at a time to an iPhone or iPad. The app pulls up each image individually, and the user classifies the species captured via a scrolling wheel. The user then identifies the number of individual animals. Because most images contain one or two individuals, the app has buttons for these. Otherwise, the number of individuals is keyed in. If something, say blowing grass, triggers the camera without capturing a wildlife species, the code “ghost” is used. Ultimately, this process sorts the images and stores them on a remote server, where they are ready for project use. To ensure data quality, each image is sorted multiple times and majority opinion prevails. The final sort is subsampled and checked for accuracy before analysis.

The app was designed this year by Jason Baird, a 22-year-old whiz kid from Trinity College in Connecticut interning at the regional office in Albuquerque. He developed Moniker for roughly two-thirds the cost of conventional app design.

To try the app, go to the App Store on your iPhone (model 4, OS version 8.4.1 or newer) and iPad (model 2 or newer) and search for “Moniker.” Moniker may not immediately pop up in the suggestions, so hit the Search tab again and it will.

Even after sorting, analyzing millions of images still is a lot of work. Fortunately, there is a solution for this, too. Since 2010, the Service has been collaborating internationally with camera trapping experts, designing a process that simplifies analysis and information sharing. The approach relies on generating a text file for every image that includes camera location, date and time, species and number captured. The text file, and not the image, is then analyzed and shared across projects to encourage meta-analyses.

Grant Harris is chief of biological services for the Southwest Region. For more information on how the app can be used for scientific analyses, contact him at Grant_Harris@fws.gov.