New 'Facebook' for animals could help protect endangered wildlife

Wildbook uses AI to turn whale-watching and safari photos into a new kind of tool to track threatened animal species.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
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Wildbook takes user-submitted photos of animals and uses artificial intelligence to sort through the data to better aid conservationists' research.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Humans use Facebook to connect with friends, family members and old flames, and now they can use another Facebook of sorts that helps wildlife researchers and conservationists keep tabs on endangered animals. 

Wildbook, a new website created by the nonprofit group Wild Me, aims to crowdsource photos of animals taken in the wild by researchers, students and those who like to document every moment of our vacations. 

Using open-source software and artificial intelligence, Wildbook not only receives data from animal photos manually uploaded by people. It also searches images on Flickr and videos on YouTube for media such as whale-watching tours and vacation safaris that might be useful for their studies. 

This deep-learning approach enables Wildbook to find the same exact animal in different images, which can then help researchers use even more accurate data about an animal's health, eating habits, hunting patterns, population size and possibly poacher activity.

When uploading animal photos, the user can also include additional data like the animal's sex, approximate age, location, other animals nearby and more. 

Because each animal gets its own individual profile -- much like a human would on Facebook -- the researchers can decide to focus more on one specific animal within a declining species population.

In addition to Wildbook, Wild Me also has a more specific site called Flukebook just for reporting sightings of whales, dolphins and other marine life. 

Both Facebook and Instagram have also been doing their part to help curb the selling of endangered animals, as well as encouraging users to notify them of any unlawful acts regarding wildlife documented via photos.

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