Lord Hightower and Mr. Big probably have no idea they’ve become international celebrities.Both known for their impressive racks of antlers and for being reliably photogenic, the pair are among a handful of Calgary’s resident wildlife who’ve become frequent subjects of the Captured Calgary project, which uses remote cameras in city parks while enlisting help from nature enthusiasts to help identify animals who wander within range.Since its launch in the spring of 2017, the project’s 62 cameras spread over 15 Calgary parks (as well as Fish Creek provincial park) have snapped nearly 230,000 images, yielding some 1.3 million classifications from a worldwide corps of volunteers who painstakingly dig through thousands of pictures, helping to identify any wildlife who trip the shutter.Chris Manderson, the city’s urban conservation lead, said the project got a quiet start but has picked up steam thanks to a global army of keyboard-wielding sleuths who have a keen eye for Calgary’s wild denizens.“We were kind of blown away, particularly over the first three months,” he said.“We were getting, at one point, 50,000 images a day being reviewed. If you look at the site now, we’re still getting a few thousand a day reviewed.”
A deer identified as Lord Hightower in an image identified via the city’s Calgary Captured project, which has set up 62 cameras in 16 parks city-wide. Supplied photo
Images snapped by the network of cameras hidden in Calgary’s urban wilderness are recovered with the help of project partners the Calgary-based Miistakis Institute, which then filters through the images to ensure the privacy of humans who sometimes wander into areas that are primarily the domain of wildlife.The thousands of images cleared to be posted to zooniverse.org are then available for any member of the public to scour through, enabling them to identify the types and numbers of any animals spotted, as well as if there are any young.Since its launch, some 3,149 “citizen scientists” have contributed to the project, with nearly two-thirds of those from Calgary. But it’s not just local wildlife lovers helping the cause, with eyeballs from around the world taking peeks, including some from Australia, Russia, Finland and even Mongolia. Outside of Calgary, the most pageviews on the site are registered from Canberra, Australia.Given the community that’s evolved around the cameras, some of the subjects who feature prominently have earned their own nicknames, including Lord Hightower and Mr. Big. Among those gaining similar notoriety are Bucky, The Nuzzlers, Mr. Magnificent and Chill Deer.
A deer identified as Mr. Big in an image identified via the city’s Calgary Captured project, which has set up 62 cameras in 16 parks city-wide. Supplied photo
Some images that could still be considered wild, if unexpected, have also been snapped by the tree cams.“We have people with no clothes on going swimming for example,” Manderson said, noting any photos that capture humans, whether they’re aware of the camera or not, are destroyed.“Two people dressed up as German soldiers and posed in front of (the camera). In one case, someone held up a postcard of a grizzly bear for the camera.”The task of filtering through the images is performed by the Miistakis Institute, but the return on investment is more than worth it, says Nicole Kahal, project coordinator for the non-profit.“People are taking notice and getting a better understanding of wildlife in the city,” Kahal said.“I think most Calgarians do enjoy seeing wildlife. But it’s also easy to forget that we are sharing space with wildlife.”
A black bear goes for a jog in an image identified via the city’s Calgary Captured project, which has set up 62 cameras in 16 parks city-wide. Supplied photo
In addition to capturing the occasional candid human moment, the cameras also allow viewers the chance to see rare behaviour in its animal subjects. Cameras have captured deer rutting and playing, pheasants courting, magpies picking parasites off deer, and animals answering their most pressing calls of nature.Some rare sightings have also been captured thanks to the cameras, including a northern flying squirrel, long tail weasel, and more raccoons than most Calgarians would imagine.Manderson said his department is working with the city’s advanced analytics group that’s hoping to build and test artificial intelligence that will be able to filter out images with humans, potentially reducing volunteer hours by 70 per cent or more.
A pair of fawns play fight in summer of 2018, in an image identified via the city’s Calgary Captured project, which has set up 62 cameras in 16 parks city-wide. Supplied photo
The program — which just received a $250,000 grant from the Calgary Foundation, which will fully fund it over the next three years — has the potential to expand its mandate as well, Manderson said, noting he hopes it will help get a better read on how wildlife interacts with the urban environment, where they move and behaviours they display.“We’re looking at how we manage and maintain healthy natural environments in the city,” he said, adding this year the city will be moving some of the cameras to different parks to broaden their knowledge of local wildlife.“We can use this to understand where they go, how they use the urban landscape and what they are eating. If new communities are seeing patterns it might give us the opportunity to design them to minimize roadkill.”The camera data is further bolstered by public reporting of wildlife through the city’s 311 call centre, Manderson said, which has helped city ecologists better understand how to better coexist with nature, and how urban environments impact its wild denizens.
A nocturnal bobcat on the prowl in an image identified via the city’s Calgary Captured project, which has set up 62 cameras in 16 parks city-wide. Supplied photo
“We’re seeing urban evolution right now. There are more species than ever and cities are becoming hotbeds of evolutionary changes,” Manderson said.“Coyotes have figured out how to live in cities. There’s evidence that the brains of chickadees in the city are bigger than their rural counterparts.“We know wildlife is adapting to cities.”
A deer and his magpie pal go for a walk in an image identified via the city’s Calgary Captured project, which has set up 62 cameras in 16 parks city-wide. Supplied photo
firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @ShawnLogan403Calgary’s 10 most reported animals on 311, 2005-2019:Coyote: 12,224Deer: 4,192Bobcat/lynx: 2,654Moose: 1,324Skunk: 921Duck: 428Cougar: 419Rabbit: 417Porcupine: 385Fox: 293Five animal oddities reported to 311, 2005-2019:Raccoon: 107Rat: 9Peacock: 9Wolverine: 3Alligator: 1