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Can You Help Sharks and Bears by Friending Them on Facebook?

Can You Help Sharks and Bears by Friending Them on Facebook?

When you know an animal as an individual, you’re much more likely to care about its welfare. That’s the thinking behind a new social media app that developers hope will spur more interest in animal conservation efforts.

As part of ongoing scientific collaborations around the world that study wildlife populations of whale sharks, manta rays, and polar bears, researchers are tagging thousands of animals to track their movements and monitor their daily lives.

A new social media application called “Wild Me” allows users to “friend” these individually trackable animals on Facebook. The developers of the Wild Me app describe what they are attempting to accomplish in this way:

Wild Me is a unique mix of software, science, and conservation. Our project engages the general public by merging wildlife and human social networks, using real world scientific research as a data feed for examining animal populations in a new light…as explorable networks of individuals with social and genetic relationships much like our own.

Each animal has its own bio page with periodic updates, photos and input from researchers who are tracking the animal. Each recorded sighting enables followers to keep up with the animal’s movements and activities.

Increasing Our Perception of the Value of Conserving Animals

“We want people to see these animals as individuals worth conserving,” developer Jason Holmberg told the Washington Post. “To do that, we wanted a social media network that can span space, time and species.”

Watch a video about how Wild Me came to be and how it works:

Holmberg’s vision is that the app will alert an animal’s friends about where the animal is, what social dynamics it engages in, and even provide information about the researchers who are feeding the app all this information.

Uploaded photos and information updates provided by researchers will, Holmberg hopes, lead to increased engagement and awareness about the individual animal. Its human Facebook friends can watch and wonder where it’s going, what other animals it’s traveling with, whether it has offspring, and more.

The creators of the Wild Me app are hoping that if enough people “friend” an animal and become interested in its ongoing activities, it will galvanize them into caring about the species as a whole. With luck, that level of increased interest will eventually translate into conservation policies that help these species survive and thrive.

“People want to be engaged in conservation, but they get disillusioned when they just sign a petition or donate money and never hear anything on the topic again,” noted conservation biologist and ray expert Andrea Marshall told the Washington Post. “Getting updates on what an animal is doing or what researchers have learned from it will make participants feel involved and connected.”

Friend a whale shark like this one and learn how it lives its life.

Marshall likes this app and what it’s trying to do so much that she contributed her own images and data from her extensive Ph.D. dissertation research on giant rays. Others are following suit. According to the Washington Post, Marshall believes providing her manta ray data to Wild Me may be “the single most important things she does for their conservation.”

Pick Your New Animal Friends — Some Even Have Names

A few, but not all, of the thousands of animals currently trackable on Wild Me have actual names. You might choose to follow Stumpy, the 10-ton whale shark who likes to swim off the coast of Western Australia near Ningaloo Reef. There’s also Pringles, another whale shark who frequents the waters near Tofo, Mozambique. How about Zazzy, the polar bear from Churchill, Manitoba?

Is there a downside to anthropomorphizing animals by letting people “friend” them via social media apps? Of course not. It’s interesting and it’s fun. However, some will undoubtedly feel this sort of thing goes a bit far, possibly leading people to treat these animals as sentient individuals (the horror) even though they can’t actually be our “friends” in the real world.

University of Oxford conservation ecologist Meredith Root-Bernstein disagrees. “Engagement comes from learning about species as individuals and what their lives are like,” she told the Washington Post. She believes the “Wild Me” app offers a chance for all included species to shine for their human friends, not just the prettier, more charismatic ones everyone already loves.

Go ahead and friend a few animals on “Wild Me.” You might just end up becoming fonder of your new animal friends than those other rather irritating people on Facebook.

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Photo credits: Thinkstock

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76 comments

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7:10AM PST on Nov 2, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

6:20AM PST on Feb 5, 2014

Thank you

6:37AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

I actually get a lot of petitions through facebook. So I think it'll defenitly be a good idea.

10:43PM PST on Jan 12, 2014

NOTED

7:06PM PST on Jan 12, 2014

Sounds good...except for the tracking. In my mind's eye I can see hunters and other bastards cleaning their guns right now, those who think any animal can be used for their personal target practice. I've gotten to the point whenever I look at a photo of an animal I will think "how beautiful" but my next immediate thought is "I wonder if you're still alive". Sorry ass world for animals we live in now.

2:37PM PST on Jan 12, 2014

It is a cool idea but I, too, worry about the tracking aspect. Lose that and I'd support it all the way!!!

4:31AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

I think this is a good idea. It will be educational and 'we protect what we love' and 'when we know better, we do better.' So many animals world wide are under siege, they need all the help and voices they can get on their side speaking out and up for them.

10:32AM PST on Jan 8, 2014

I think awareness is the number one way to save our animals on this planet and getting people directly involved with an app like this is truly wonderful. I like the idea that the information is also related back to scientists.
The only concern I have is that tracking these animals and knowing exactly where they are can be dangerous for their survival also. I think of the war on wolves in certain states, and other countries. I just want humans to leave them alone! Yet, I do understand that people, in particular, young children really need to have a connection with wildlife and all animals in order for them to be involved and care. I suppose this is like my conflict with zoos. I wish all animals could live free from harm in their own environment and never confined to a zoo, no matter how wonderful their set up might be there, but that just is not reality in this day and age. And, again, awareness is the absolute key to their survival. Social media has done wonderful for this. So, bottom-line, I support this app!!

8:38AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

Zuckerberg does not care about animals, he kills them!

4:51AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

great share

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