Getting Wild with Google Photos & Disney’s Zootopia

By Emily Marrin

Giant River Otter with Google Photos camera

Giant river otter curiously observes the hidden camera placed in an enrichment device by Google Photos

If you’ve never seen an animal selfie before, do yourself a favor and check these out.

Recently, the Los Angeles Zoo partnered with Google Photos to give some of our animals the ability to take their own pictures. How? A series of enrichment devices have been embedded with Nexus phones equipped with near-range motion sensors that snap photos when animals interact with the devices. Each device was designed and engineered to ensure animal engagement, total safety, and some seriously incredible images. L.A. Zoo animal care staff were closely consulted at each phase of the project, from concepting to testing to execution.

Sumatran tiger selfie (Courtesy of Google Photos)

Sumatran tiger selfie

When Sumatran tiger Keeper Stephanie Zielinski heard of the project—then in the initial planning stage—her first thought was one of excitement, “I think it’s a really interesting and innovative idea to put cameras inside our enrichment devices.” These devices are like fun play toys that are placed inside enclosures to provide physical and mental stimulation for the animals. Zielinski likes that this effort will gives the public the “opportunity to have an insider look at the [animals] while they’re interacting with enrichment.”

All of the resulting ultra-close-up snapshots were automatically backed up to Google Photos, keeping them organized, searchable, secure, and shareable. The auto backup feature was essential given the “wild” circumstances. In fact, a couple of the phones were destroyed during the test phase, thanks to the rambunctiousness of our giant river otters and the power of young CJ the tiger, who, at just under three years old, is a “teenager in the tiger world,” according to Zielinski. (Teenager or no, Sumatran tigers are some of the most “incredibly powerful animals on the planet,” says Zielinski.) But, luckily, all the images survived.

Charlie the sloth takes a selfie (Courtesy of Google Photos)

Charlie the sloth takes a selfie

Inspired by Disney’s Zootopia, this one-time photo experiment gets viewers eye to eye with animals featured in the movie (and some close cousins). In addition to the tiger and otters, our red river hogs, giraffes, elephants, and, of course, Charlie the sloth all took selfies reflecting their unique behaviors. See for yourself by following along on social media this week (March 7 through 11) using #zooglephotos or viewing the full album at g.co/zoogleselfies.

For a three-dimensional look at animal enrichment, visit the Zoo and see if you can spy the various creative objects within the exhibits, such as Boomer balls, puzzle boxes, and PVC contraptions. Even without smartphones embedded inside them, enrichment items represent the commitment and care (as well as creativity and ingenuity) of our staff in ensuring the wellbeing and quality of life of our resident animals.
 

Giraffe eyes camera (Courtesy of Google Photos)

Giraffe eyes camera on smartphone

 
All photos courtesy of Google Photos