Case Study

Wild Me Uses Artificial Intelligence and Flatfile’s Data Importer to Fight Wildlife Extinction

Elizabeth Bukys

Posted 6/9/2021

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History reports that at least 15,000 species on Earth are threatened with extinction. Scientists are racing to catalogue the biodiversity on Earth, working against the clock as extinctions continue to occur.

Wild Me is a non-profit organization that builds open software and leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to support the fight against wildlife extinction. The organization finds and identifies wildlife individually in photographs and builds mark-recapture models that provide scientists and conservationists the data they need to justify conservation action. As part of their work, Wild Me must import large amounts of data from wildlife biologists and scientists from all over the world.

Importing this vast amount of data on a regular basis manually is time consuming. To streamline the process, Wild Me is leveraging the power of the Flatfile data importer.

“We’re talking about millions of photos” said Jason Holmberg, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Wild Me. “And we only have a small slice of wildlife data at this point. Every year more and more data is available both on the web, from the public, and from researchers using digital cameras.”

The Wild Me’s Wildbook platform serves more than 200 organizations and nearly a thousand researchers. They are tracking at least 88,000 individual animals across the globe with well north of 438,000 sightings in the database. They have also engaged in data collection with more than 10,000 public “citizen scientists.”

Supporting multiple data import streams

“We have two pipelines for ingesting data,” said Ben Scheiner, Senior Engineer at Wild Me. “One is from individuals who report sightings  by  using an online form on our website. The other is from researchers who are looking to migrate their entire research system to our Wildbook database. This is called our bulk reporter upload which is Flatfile’s data importer.”

Wild Me is uploading data daily as well as multiple times a week across all its platforms.

“Over this past weekend I brought in 5,000 humpback whale sightings as a result of an historical catalog that came in,” said Holmberg. “All of these images have to be bulk uploaded and run through machine learning.”

Prior to using the Flatfile data importer, Wild Me was considering the creation of  a universal importer.

“The problem with the universal importer is that few of the researchers were familiar with the concept of schemas or data standards,” said Holmberg. “There wasn’t a common data standard, so we ended up building half the solution which is a common input format and then we had to rely on the users to meet us halfway. That wasn’t easy. That’s where Flatfile comes in. The ease of use of converting a legacy catalog or just a week’s worth of photographs and related metadata into a common format that we can import saves both our staff and end users huge amounts of time.”

Holmberg estimates a tenfold time savings importing data since implementing Flatfile. They have also saved developers a significant amount of time since the number of support tickets is down considerably.

“Users who get frustrated trying to import data end up submitting a support ticket,” said Holmberg. “We’re a non-profit and supporting these wildlife biologists is part of our mission, but the cost of that support absolutely comes out of my available financing that I’ve raised for the organization. 

“Managing large numbers of support tickets also limits our scalability. Flatfile eliminates many of these support requests and will allow us to grow. A user-friendly importing interface reduces a barrier to the user who is just trying to get their data into the system. It helps them clean their data, eliminates common errors, and reduce the prep time to import their data from potentially weeks to hours.”

Wild Me and the Flatfile impact program

Wild Me is one of the first grantees of the Flatfile Impact program, a corporate effort to help charitable organizations that rely on data from customers or third parties to inform their work. Making that data usable is a challenge for even the most technology savvy organizations. The goal of Flatfile Impact is to help non-profit organizations struggling to build import data solutions for their product or service, or if they are having issues normalizing the data they need to run their organizations. 

Being a Flatfile grantee is of enormous benefit to Wild Me.

“Conservation generally is funded at about 3% globally of what is needed,” said Holmberg. “One of the greatest barriers to modernization in wildlife conservation is the inability to afford the technology. Researchers don’t have the funds to purchase AI tech that costs tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for data manipulation and blending or AI. All of these things are costs well above the average non-profit budget.

“So the idea that Flatfile is providing free access to its technology is critical to advancing conservation,” said Holmberg. “Most of the data we import represents photographs on a file system and data in spreadsheets. That is 30-year-old technology. Wildlife science is really behind the times so having access to a tool like the Flatfile data importer has a huge beneficial impact.”

About Wild Me

Wild Me builds open software and artificial intelligence for the conservation research community. We are machine learning experts and software professionals supporting you in the fight against extinction. Our team works at the intersection of conservation, AI, engineering, and academia. We take pride in what we do, and even more pride in how we treat each other. We here at Wild Me have almost two decades of experience supporting wildlife and citizen scientist projects through software and computer vision. We work with our users to find solutions that empower the conservation community, and we strive to be representatives of how technology can be leveraged for a better world. For more information visit https://www.wildme.org/#/

About Flatfile

Flatfile's vision is to enable seamless data transactions between every organization in the world. With AI-assisted data onboarding, they eliminate repetitive work and make B2B data exchange fast, intuitive, and error-free. Flatfile automatically learns how imported data should be structured and cleaned, enabling customers and teams to spend more time using their data instead of fixing it. Flatfile has transformed over 700 million rows of data for companies like ClickUp, Blackbaud, Benevity, and Toast. To learn more about Flatfile's products, Portal and Concierge, email hello@flatfile.io or get started for free at flatfile.com.

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