The wildlife app Darwin would have used

The Collector for GIS app is being used by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi to help discover new species of wildlife in the UAE and amateur naturalists can help.

The app isn’t limited to just people who have spotted new animals, it can also be wildlife that they run into on a day-to-day basis. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // If Charles Darwin had a smartphone he would probably have downloaded the Collector for ArcGIS, a free app being used by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) to help record species of wildlife in the UAE.

The app is created by Esri, a US-based supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software and geodatabase management applications. It’s a tools that people can use to make the EAD’s work easier.

“There is definitely the possibility of one of the users discovering a new species, or an observation of a species that we thought was extinct,” said Anil Kumar, director of information management at the EAD. “That’s the idea behind the app, for people to help us in science.”

The EAD hopes that people use the app for the possibility of discovering new species and to get the public to help in conservation efforts in the UAE.

The app allows users to record an animal or plant seen, in real time, record whatever information they know about it and then upload it to the EAD for analysis.

Khansa Al Blouki, the public engagement manager at the EAD, said that as the weather improves and the popularity of hiking and camping increases among residents, people would install the app on their phones and use it.

“When people go to these wonderful areas in the UAE and see the beautiful nature, they can use the app and contribute to a growing number of resources,” she said.

Ms Al Blouki said that the app is not limited to reporting new or unusual animals. It can also be used for day-to-day encounters with wildlife. “Take a photo, send it to us, you never know, you might discover a new species,” she said. “While you’re having fun or just taking a walk, might as well use the app. You are helping us protect the biodiversity and to manage our job.”

That information would be checked and validated to confirm the presence of the specimen and then it would be entered in the database and used for policy-making and conservation efforts.

Data, Mr Kumar said, would be collected every week and analysed to provide users with a real-time experience. Users would also be able to see the information captured by others.

“Basically, we want people to contribute to conservation. One of the ways is to provide information when people go out in the field on holidays or trekking,” he said.

The app also has an urban wildlife option for those who want to use it in the city.

"Any wildlife information is important. For example, the foxes in the Saadiyat area are something to note. We want to be able to capture this information to see any native species still around, despite the urban development, or if there are any exotic animals of note," he said.

Meanwhile, certain specimens in the urban environment could indicate the presence of invasive species brought in. So, the app could possibly prevent an ecological disruption.

The app is available for download for Android and Apple devices. Users can follow the graphic, above, and use the EAD’s login information to send in details.