Carnivore Spotter is a project launched this year (h/t Seattle Times) designed to catalog citizen carnivore sightings, specifically black bears, bobcats, cougars, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, opossums, and river otters. Residents that see something (or think they see something) can submit information on the animal, sighting location, the date and time, and how sure they are about what they saw. Reports can include photos, videos, and audio clips.
The reports end up on a map, filter-able by animal, neighborhood, and certainty, so even if you don’t participate, you can check out how many of a certain animal have been seen in your area—or on your favorite hike.
While the map is designed to make it easy for citizens to swap info, on a larger scale it’s part of the Seattle Urban Carnivore Project. It’s a research collaboration between the zoo and the university that started last year to examine how these animals coexist with us and interact with our human habitats. The data submitted will be used along with cameras placed around the greater Seattle area to gain insights on their behavior, including larger conflict points.
The map comes during a time of heightened coyote sightings in the area, according to Woodland Park Zoo researcher on the project Katie Remine. “Through this study we want to raise awareness about the carnivores that share habitat in our urban areas and that they belong in those areas as much as humans do,” said Remine in a statement distrubuted by the zoo. “Many of these animals often get a bad rap and are feared because of misperceptions about the extent of their risk to people and their pets. We want to use real data to explore the benefits and risks related to the presence of carnivores.”
Appropriately, a dramatic portion of the reported sightings so far are coyotes, stretching all over the region. Raccoon sightings are, predictably, also common in-city. Reported encounters with animals like black bears and bobcats get more common farther away from the urban core.
Seattle University biology professor Mark Jordan said in a statement that it’s a valuable opportunity to get hands-on with scientific research relevant to their lives—for both students and the public alike.
“By involving the zoo and community members, the project takes this research out of the ivory tower and puts it directly in the hands of the people who stand to benefit the most from our findings related to coexisting with carnivores,” said Jordan.
Sightings can be reported on desktop or mobile at carnivorespotter.org.