Introducing Wildbook: A Web-based Application for Wildlife Data Management

Wildbook (formerly the “Shepherd Project”) is an open source software framework to support mark-recapture, molecular ecology, and social ecology studies.

The biological and statistical communities already support a number of excellent tools, such as Program MARK,GenAlEx, and SOCPROG for use in analyzing wildlife data. Wildbook is a complementary software application that:

  • provides a scalable and collaborative platform for intelligent wildlife data storage and management, including advanced, consolidated searching
  • provides an easy-to-use software suite of functionality that can be extended to meet the needs of wildlife projects, especially where individual identification is used
  • provides an API to support the easy export of data to cross-disciplinary analysis applications (e.g., GenePop ) and other software (e.g., Google Earth)
  • provides a platform that supports the exposure of data in biodiversity databases (e.g., GBIF and OBIS)
  • provides a platform for animal biometrics that supports easy data access and facilitates matching application deployment for multiple species

Wildbook started as a collaborative software platform for globally-coordinated whale shark (Rhincodon typus ) research as deployed in the Wildbook for Whale Sharks. After many requests to use our software outside of whale shark research, it is now an open source, community-maintained standard for mark-recapture studies.

Who is currently using this software?


Jason Holmberg is the primary software developer and information architect for Wildbook.

Dr. Scott Baker of Oregon State University designed the DNA-related components within the software and remains an active adviser on the project.

Demo Site

We are happy to give demos of the software via webinars. We also have a demo site here:

Please email “jason [at] whaleshark [dot] org” to receive access credentials for the demo site, which refreshes itself periodically, allowing you to run real world tests of Wildbook.



We are trying out of some the early feature of Wildbook 5 on and On the MMU Wildbook site, check out the multi-project pulldown menu, allowing one Wildbook to serve as the security and data hub for multiple independent projects and their distinct databases. This provides not only a more efficient software architecture to administer and upgrade, but it also supports higher level analyses of projects and coordinated security.


We are pleased to release Wildbook 4.1.0! This new, large release includes the following features and fixes:

  • NEW: User agreement acceptance via popup at first login (Flukebook/ request)
  • FIX: Don't display User profile images in Thumbnail Search Results
  • FIX: Searching by user misses usernames with Capitalization
  • NEW: alternateID search behavior in Encounter Search and Individual Search should support partial String matching
  • FIX: Individual Search needs to match on MarkedIndividual.alternateID fragments (CaribWHALE)
  • MOD: Individual Search: improve performance by switching to AJAX and GeoJSON
    • UPGRADE: Need to populate haplotype in existing MarkedIndividual objects
  • NEW: Add multi-species map aspect to Individual Search mapped results
  • NEW: Allow for GeoJSON export from Individual Search
  • NEW: Wild Me integration with on/off configuration
  • NEW: Add MarkedIndividual.timeOfBirth and Individual Search searchability
  • NEW: Add MarkedIndividual.timeOfDeath and Individual Search searchability
  • FIX: Related occurrences not showing for a MarkedIndividual in individuals.jsp
  • NEW: Relationship and Community support (GeneGIS request)
  • NEW: Community search function for Individual Search
  • NEW: Social role search function for Individual Search
  • FIX: Memory leak on missing images when EXIF data read is attempted
  • FIX: Extend CSS styling to servlet template
  • NEW: Kin Select tool (GeneGIS)
  • FIX: prevent the use of special characters (e.g., '#' and '&') in individual IDs, occurrence IDs, and social unit names
  • MOD: Switch Facebook “Like” link to a “Share” link with populated Open Graph metadata
  • NEW: Kinalyzer ( format export from Individual Search.
  • NEW: Individual Search support for matching on one or more MarkedIndividual.individualID values
  • NEW: Encounter Search support for matching on one or more Encounter.individualID values
  • FIX: Support redirect to original URL request after required login, allowing for User Agreement Acceptance interception.
  • NEW: SocialUnit field export for SOCPROG
  • FIX: Removed remaining references to StyledMarker.js, which no longer worked with newer Google Maps developments


We are pleased to announce the availability of a Wildbook demo web site at:

Please email “jason [at] whaleshark [dot] org” to receive access to the demo site, on which we will maintain the latest released version of Wildbook.

Past news...


Past development work for Wildbook has been supported by:

Collaboration Model

Wildbook is designed to produce successful, reproducible collaborations between biologists, biostatisticians, computer scientists, and citizen scientists by providing a Web-based software platform for collaboration.

Is Wildbook right for you?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, Wildbook may be a very good choice for your research.

  • Are you trying to track individual animals in a wildlife population using natural markings or genetic identifiers?
  • Are you collecting biological samples from a wildlife population and performing genetic or chemical analyses (e.g., stable isotope measurements, haplotype determination, etc.)?
  • Are you looking to increase wildlife data collection through citizen science?
  • Are you looking to build a collaborative, distributed research network for a species?
  • Are you looking to develop a new animal biometrics solution (e.g., pattern matching from photos) for one or more species?
  • Are you collecting behavioral and/or social data for a wildlife study population?



Using the web-based interface of Wildbook Framework, a research team can:

Encounters (a.k.a. “captures” or “sightings”)

  • Record an encounter (individual animal at a point in time and location) through a standardized data collection form
  • Search a database of standardized encounter data using predefined search criteria
  • Receive automated email updates when encounter reports are assigned to new or previously identified marked individuals
  • Receive RSS feeds of encounter identifications as they are made
  • View all reported encounters
  • View individual encounter reports
  • View thumbnail catalogs of submitted images
  • View adopters of individual encounters (a fundraising tool)
  • Edit encounter data with all changes tracked and permanently logged
  • Assign encounters to new or existing marked individuals
  • Set a list of additional email addresses to be notified with status and sighting updates for submitted encounters
  • View an on-line calendar of whale shark encounter reports
  • Restore accidentally deleted encounters
  • Easily map a TapirLink provider or Integrated Publishing Toolkit (IPT) to the underlying relational database for exposure of mark-recapture data to biodiversity frameworks
  • For species with marked individuals identified by unique spot patterning:
    1. Extract spot patterning from photographs and scan for matches across all patterns in library using two approaches to pattern recognition (I3S and Modified Groth).
    2. Share computing power among globally distributed machines.
    3. View pattern match reports and evaluate matches side-by-side, including direct spot remapping and statistical analysis of results.
  • Record physical, acoustic, and satellite tag data deployed during an encounter
  • Record tissue samples collected with an encounter
  • Record the results of genetic sex, haplotype, microsatellite marker, stable isotope, and contaminant analyses performed on a tissue sample

Marked Individuals

  • View all marked individuals
  • View consolidated capture and sampling history of marked individuals
  • Receive automated email updates when a marked individual is re-sighted
  • Search a global database of marked individuals using predefined search criteria
  • View consolidated mapping of sighting locations an individual
  • View co-occurrence for the individual with other individual (e.g., social grouping)


  • Define common photo keywords for your species (e.g. scarring types)
  • Add/remove keywords to encounter photos
  • Search across photographs using assigned keywords
  • Search all images\video using encounter data to create customized albums of images
  • View photo metadata (e.g. EXIF data)


  • Search all encounters and marked individual data using Google Search (when deployed as a web server)
  • Assign alternate identifiers to encounters and marked individuals
  • View sighting locations with satellite imagery incorporated from Google Maps (encounters, amrked individuals, and Encounter Search results)
  • Export sighting data as a KML file or an Excel spreadsheet for use in Google Earth and other mapping applications (Encounter Search).
  • Create and edit animal adoptions for project fundraising.
  • Review access security logs and track the source of individual logins.
  • Use a variety of relational and non-relational database types to store data. The full list of supported databases in available from the DataNucleus web site (our middleware).


The framework is open source and meant for you to extend it for your specific project! If it doesn't have the feature you need, use some simple Java programming and create it. Some things we have used it to do on are:

  • Quickly generate open and closed capture history files for population modeling in statistical packages, such as U-CARE, CloseTest, and Program MARK
  • Generate statistical reports
  • Rely on spam filters to block spurious data submission

The development of additional functionality is currently underway.


You can help move Wildbook forward by making a donation! Your donation is tax deductible in the United States.


Please send feedback to jason at whaleshark dot org. Your ideas to improve Wildbook are most welcome!


Wildbook started as the software behind the Wildbook for Whale Sharks, which is a multiuser, web-based, research application for studying whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). The aim of WIldbook for Whale Sharks is to prevent individual “silos” of whale shark data and to promote a global, cooperative approach to whale shark research using the Web as a communications and research platform. The Library went on-line and began collecting whale shark encounter data from the web in January 2003. In early 2004, the pattern-recognition system that allows the Library to distinguish between individual whale sharks using natural spot patterning was integrated. Since its first line of code, this Wildbook has seen continuous feature additions, bug fixes, and performance enhancements. Our work to maintain and enhance the Library is ongoing and requires knowledge of Java, J2EE, JDO, PHP , Flash/Flex, HTML , XML , RSS , a wee bit of Python, and CSS .

Design Influences

The following publications have influenced our design and development of Wildbook:


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