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Rans Thomas: Blending ‘big data’ with wildlife needs

There are three words that can create anxiety in the mind of any wildlife professional or researcher: trail camera survey.

After decades of managing and consulting for private hunting lands, Rans Thomas (BSFR ’99) knew this feeling all too well. Trail camera surveys, a method for understanding wildlife populations and creating management plans, are tedious and inefficient largely due to the manual process of viewing thousands of images, keeping track of results in spreadsheets or handwritten notes and processing data.

This is why Thomas was excited when he was introduced to a group of outdoorsmen and technology entrepreneurs based in Carrollton, Georgia, developing a wildlife management platform called HuntPro. The system automates and enhances trail camera surveys through artificial intelligence-powered image recognition and “big data” technology.

Thomas had been thinking of applying image recognition to trail camera surveys for years, even developing his own concept. His architecture aligned with the technology developed by HuntPro, which enables users to quickly analyze terabytes of trail camera image data, identify wildlife by species and sex in some cases, filter results and compile population analytics.

“I’ve been doing whitetail trail camera surveys for over 15 years on large hunting properties. It’s critical information, but you get sick of looking at tens of thousands of pictures–many with nothing in them—and manually collecting data,” says Thomas, whose business, Creative Land and Wildlife Solutions, LLC, consults with private landowners across the United States; Thomas also consults for HuntPro.

The HuntPro platform can identify a variety of game and non-game species, quickly filter results and also offers population study data delivered to any connected mobile device. Users can also “tag” specific animals and record harvest data via the HuntPro mobile app.

Thomas says HuntPro is in use in a variety of projects and properties. Warnell postdoctoral researcher James Johnson, working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is using the system on a research project using unbaited trail camera sites for white-tail deer. HuntPro is also used in state studies measuring populations of eastern spotted skunks in Georgia and feral hogs in South Carolina.

As a result, says Thomas, artificial intelligence and big data, delivered to mobile devices, are revolutionizing trail camera surveys and turning anxiety into excitement. “There is a world of opportunity out there.”

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