The Zoo Guards is a citizen-participatory data journalism project in which citizens and experts investigate zoos across the country.
In Korea, the number of zoos as well as their welfare status is unknown. This is due to the system in which anyone can easily establish a zoo without a license.
So, we started the Project to investigate animal welfare at the zoo. Experts created simple questions to gauge the welfare state of the zoo. Citizens surveyed the welfare of 10 common animals in their neighborhood zoos and posted their data on our website. The data was corrected analyzed by experts.
A large number of citizens took part in the project. As experts, two veterinarians specializing in animal welfare, and as citizens, 760 teams of families including children and 40 veterinary college students gathered.
We collected data for a large number of zoos. Through citizens’ reports, we knew that there are about 200 unregistered zoos in addition to about 100 government-registered zoos. Citizens visited 246 out of 345 zoos in Korea (71.3%), and the welfare score of 10 animals averaged 53 out of 100. This was far below the score (88 points) at which it is presumed that the animals would live their life expectancy. Among the habitats surveyed, only 7% were presumed for the animals to be able to live their life expectancy. There were no statistics that investigated zoos on a large scale like ours in Korea. The government and some civic groups have surveyed a sample of 10 to 20 zoos.
It had an educational effect on citizens. They learn what conditions the animals in the zoo need to be happy and healthy. The children who participated in our project said, “In the past, when I went to the zoo, I was busy looking at animals, but now I first check to see if the animals are healthy.”
Finally, our educational materials will be helpful to small zoo operators and keepers. Previously, they had little opportunity to learn about the needs of each animal species.
We reported our results as three articles in our magazine. On November 15th, a summary was released in the form of interactive content on our website. Our project won a special award at the Korea Data Journalism Awards.
1. PHP, CSS, mySQL, Excel
It was used to develop a website for collecting zoo welfare survey data. On the website, citizens can answer 17 welfare measurement questions prepared by experts and post evidence photos and videos. Journalists and experts could download them as a single excel file when they want. With this excel file, they corrected and analyzed the data.
2. GPS location information
Citizens usually used mobile devices at zoos to upload their findings. At this time, GPS location information of citizens was recorded along with the survey results, allowing experts and data journalists to determine the location of the zoo.
3. Google Docs, Google Maps
We uploaded the zoo list in Google Docs and shared it with the public. Citizens added their neighborhood zoos to the list if it is not on the list (a zoo not registered with the government). With this, we discovered new zoos to investigate. Also, if citizens checked out a zoo welfare, they could write their name in the box next to the zoo’s name in the document. With this, we filled in the blanks on our zoo list. Also, we made it easy for citizens to find zoos close to home by uploading zoo address information to Google Maps.
It was used to visualize statistical data analyzed with Excel as graphs in interactive content.
At the beginning of the project, to attract the public’s attention and educate the ecology of the animals to be investigated, the ‘Find Animals That Look Like Me’ test was serviced. JQuery was used for user interaction in this test.
It was mainly used to implement motion in interactive content. In addition, it was used for all services for citizens.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Our biggest challenge was filling the data gap. We wanted to know exactly the welfare status of Korean zoos. In Korea, cases of abuse at several zoos have been exposed, but we did not know how widespread this was in zoos across the country. (The roadside zoos in the Netflix documentary ‘Tiger King’ raise and harass tigers for commercial purposes. In Korea, this is happening with raccoons and meerkats.)
The problem was that no one had zoo statistics. According to Korean law, if someone has less than 50 animals or less than 10 species, they are not required to register with the government as a zoo. Also, when registering as a zoo, there is no need to report whether it meets the environmental conditions related to welfare. Without basic data, it was impossible to analyze the overall well-being of the zoo.
We decided to solve the problem with ‘children’; VIP customers of the zoo. After educating children on what kind of zoo is good for animals, if children can do research when visiting the zoo, it is possible to educate zoo visitors and collect data at the same time.
The problem that children may lack professionalism has been addressed with ‘citizen science’. We cooperated with experts in the field of animal welfare to prepare a method so that even children can easily do welfare research. Any errors that may have occurred during the investigation were also considered by experts. Experts are writing their thesis based on the data collected by us.
In summary, our innovations are: First, the reliability of the results is high. Experts set the welfare survey method sophisticated enough to submit papers to academic journals and corrected any errors. Second, data that did not exist in the world was collected. Third, ethical zoo visitors are growing..
What can others learn from this project?
Other journalists can learn about the structures that engage citizens in data journalism through our project. Everyone who participates in our project realizes their own desires. Journalists can gather data that never existed and write articles. Experts can also collect data that never existed and write academic papers.
The same goes for citizens. Children can satisfy their curiosity about animals and visit the zoo. Parents can relieve the guilt of visiting a non-educational zoo. (Parents who participated in our project often professed, “Our son/daughter loves animals so much, so we have no choice but to go to the zoo. But when I saw the poor environment of the zoo, I felt guilty. I am glad that our child can critically enjoy the zoo.”) Veterinary College students gain the experience they need to become zoo veterinarians and meet mentors (experts).
The Zoo Guards was born based on their needs. The Korea Data Journalism Awards presented us with a special award and evaluated that it showed the potential of citizen-participatory data journalism. Previously, data journalists had been collecting, processing, and analyzing scattered data. This has made excellent articles, but there is a limit for the areas of ‘no data’ to stay in the dark. I dare to say that our project showed that even areas without data can be targeted by data journalism with the help of citizens and scientists.