Zoo Hackathon Mobile App

In October 2017, I participated in the San Diego Zoo Hackathon, an event that brought designers and coders together to address the challenges of fighting wildlife trafficking. We were given a brief and spent the next three days drafting a working prototype for our proposed solution for Intertwined Conservation Corp (ICC), an organization dedicated to saving the scarlet macaws of Costa Rica.

The problem

Millions of wild macaws in Costa Rica are poached and smuggled illegally. ICC has a team of biologists on the ground in Costa Rica who track the migration patterns and nests, as well as rehabilitate birds that have been recovered from smugglers. 

  • Nearly all of the poaching is done by Costa Rican locals who have limited alternate sources of income in rural areas of the rainforests. 
  • The ICC biologists have to travel by foot to remote locations to photograph, study and map the bird locations. 

How might we reduce the frequency of petty poaching and optimize the biologists' analysis availability?

Key insights

  • “The red macaw is also threatened by people who don’t want to be poaching.” Many of these poaching incidents are opportunistic (i.e. when someone comes across a nest).  A poacher can make $25 per bird.
  • “Our problem isn’t image recognition. We’re good at that. Our problem is data collection.” Most of the biologists’ time is spent traveling to hard-to-reach locations, rather than analyzing the photo database. The field biologists are able to identify individual birds by their unique markings.


AraVista is a mobile application designed to mobilize the local community of Costa Ricans and turn them into conservation activists, so that they may assist the ICC field biologists collect valuable data and be compensated for their efforts. The idea is that the local Costa Ricans take photos of the birds whenever they come across them in the wild. They can upload and submit the photos for the ICC team to review. If the ICC team is able to identify birds in the photos, they may approve the photos so that the person is paid for their submission. The two main user groups are the locals (Scouts) and the ICC (Biologists); therefore there are different workflows for each.

For the scouts

Scouts may log in to the app using their telephone number to make the sign in process as simple as possible. From the dashboard they can choose to upload photos and view their submission history.  They are able to see feedback on photos that were not approved for compensation so that they can better understand what the biologists are looking for in future submissions.  Statistical infographics show them their approval rates and total earnings.

Scouts can either take photos of birds as they see them, or submit a request for an SMS message containing GPS coordinates assigned by the ICC biologists. The assigned coordinates could be known bird nesting or feeding locations. If a scout finds birds at a new location the biologists can mark the coordinates which are extracted from the photo metadata and add it to their database as a point of interest.

See also:  Adobe XD Prototype


For the biologists

Biologists log in to the app to find a dashboard of pending photo submissions awaiting review. The metadata from the photos is collected and used to sort and group the submissions by location (per user) into a task list.  Upon clicking on a task, the biologist is brought to a group of photos. The biologist clicks on each photo to look for identifiable birds. Since they are able to identify individual birds by their unique markings, they can tag a bird in the photo and fill in a datasheet about each bird tagged in the photo. The datasheet contains fixed items in a bubble fill sheet for datapoint consistency.  If the biologist indicates that there are indeed identifiable birds in the submission, the scout is paid accordingly. 

Additional database organizational tools were built into the app as well. The biologists are able to group the information based on photo metadata locations, users or individually tagged birds.

See also: Adobe XD Prototype



After the brief was presented and teams were formed, we got to work on ideating. A few sketches and many post-it notes later, I came up with a wireframe and then turned it into a digital prototype in Adobe XD. We presented our design proposal at the end of the hackathon and were awarded second place (out of eight teams).