What used to be the “lion lab”
## Today’s guest post is from Jessica Timmons, a University of Minnesota undergraduate who has volunteered with the Lion Project since 2010 — before we even dreamed of working with Zooniverse to create Snapshot Serengeti. ###
Before there was Snapshot Serengeti, there was Lion Lab. Lion Lab was located at the University of Minnesota in a small room with two computers and rows upon rows of species reference books, film organized in binders, and beaten, rolled up maps that had seen many days in the field. I liked to think of our “mascot” as a small stuffed lion who I nicknamed Leo that sat on top the main computer’s monitor and watched over those working in lab. Ali’s office was located next door, and many other projects’ researchers had offices in the near vicinity. A bulletin board nearby contained a plethora of bios of the many students who volunteered (just as Snapshot Serengeti volunteers do) to identify species in photographs from the Serengeti.
My role as the lead undergraduate researcher and volunteer coordinator consisted of working with the project’s volunteers and researchers, acting as a communication channel so that all knew about the exciting happenings in lab. At first I was in charge of organizing volunteers so that each had ample time to ID; since the project was housed on one computer volunteers had to physically come into lab to work with the data. To foster a sense of community, every couple weeks we would host lab meetings where Ali and Craig would talk about all of their experiences in the field and spark a desire in all of us to want to go the Serengeti, too.
As the project grew, there came a time when it became possible to access the program remotely. This meant that volunteers did not have to come into lab anymore and could identify from anywhere they had internet access. Though we could now work from anywhere with the brand, new Serengeti Live program, I and another dedicated volunteer still came into the lab to identify. We loved the atmosphere and always jammed to the Lion King soundtrack as we worked. It was great to have someone to share exciting photo discoveries with – if one of us would spot a lion in an image we would excitedly tell the other then proceed to examine the photo as thoroughly as humanly possible.
Though my job as volunteer coordinator was now irrelevant, I was still someone volunteers could contact with questions. Since so many people now had access to our project, Ali decided it would be a great idea to have a core group of the most active volunteers that could brainstorm ways to keep the project moving forward. So it happened that a small group of us would meet once a week to discuss and execute plans to make the identification process even smoother. We made online tutorials, species reference guides, and helped to raise money for the project by sending out rewards to those who supported us through a RocketHub campaign. It was around this time that Ali announced the exciting news that the project would become accessible to all through a partnership with Zooniverse. Snapshot Serengeti was born, and because of the dedicated volunteers and researchers out in the field incredible things are being discovered daily. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to watch the project grow into something truly extraordinary from its beginnings on one computer in a little lab at the University of Minnesota.