The idea for WildSide came about when we (Chris and Elizabeth) took a year out to travel through South America and get some first hand experience of seeing animals in the wild. During our time out we struggled to find reliable, unbiased information about the best places to see wildlife and the best times to visit. So the idea for WildSide was born – a site set up to provide this information in order to make wildlife watching easier and to encourage people to get out and do it!
First we want to know where people have had successful (or unsuccessful!) wildlife watching experiences. Once a member of the team has then visited the site, a page is created which sets out basic information about the area and the key species that can be seen there (see this example for Isla de la Plata in Ecuador). If we like a particular tour or operator we will recommend them on the site. However, we do not accept payments for listings or any advertising on WildSide. All of our recommendations are based on our honest opinions. At the moment WildSide only covers South America but the plan is to eventually cover the whole world!
One of the key challenges in setting up WildSide has been how to aggregate place based data. For example, somewhere like the Galapagos Islands could have one single page, or individual pages for each island and each dive site. At this stage we are aggregating data as much as possible but this may evolve in future based on feedback from our users.
We also want to know which animals people most want to see on their visits. This helps to identify those species which are most important to users and allows us to provide recommendations on the best places to see them. For each species listed as being important we add a new page which lists the top places to see them. Some of these pages are for individual species (such as humpback whales) and some are for groups of related species (such as manta rays). On each page we use the beautiful free images provided by Pixabay or those available under a Creative Commons licence on Flickr.
As well as knowing what species people want to see, we also want to know how often they see them. This data is used to provide a % chance of seeing those species at each location and is used to provide a comparison of the best places to see each species. For example, each species page has a list of places where they can be seen. This is ordered by the highest likelihood of sightings (see this example for blue-footed boobies). In the event of a tie, the ranking is ordered by average user score. If there is a further tie, by the number of reports. If that still results in a tie we sort alphabetically.
Sometimes the data for a particular area is divided into separate scores. For example, underwater species such as manta rays are more likely to be seen by scuba divers. So in the case of Isla de la Plata we provide the % likelihood of sighting manta rays based on the number of scuba divers who reported sightings and exclude those who visited the area for whale or bird watching.
The more reviews provided by our users, the more reliable the recommendations will be – so please send in any data you have and encourage friends to do so to!
Another important piece of data is the time of the year in which the visit took place. As the behaviour of many species is seasonal we would like to provide a % likelihood of sighting each species on a monthly basis. At this stage we do not have enough data to provide this information so we currently rely on data submitted to TripAdvisor.
For each site we search all of the TripAdvisor reviews we can find for that area and list any sightings of the species users want to see that mention the month in which the visit took place. We then put together a bar chart which shows the number of sightings of each species by month based on this data (see the humpback whale example inset).
For some species, such as for humpback whales visiting Isla de la Plata, this data corresponds to the known season for that species visiting the area. However, there are limitations with this data as not every user reports the month they visited. Some species – particularly charismatic species – are over reported while others are under reported. And the data is likely to be somewhat biased towards months in which tourism activity is highest (e.g. June to August). So at this stage, these graphs are indicative of likely sightings rather than reliable data!
Another useful piece of data is the total cost of the visit. This is so that we can provide information about how much it typically costs for people to visit a particular area. Cost estimates can range from all inclusive multi-day trips to budget day trips. So for each place we provide an average cost per person together with a minimum and maximum spend.
Finally, we also collect information about the average user score using a 5 point scale from 1 (very bad) to 5 (very good). This allows us to provide an average user rating for each site. We use this score to distinguish the very best spots to see wildlife by incorporating other factors beyond the likelihood of seeing a particular species.
The rest of the data collected provides information on aspects such as accessibility, practical details, which tour companies are recommended etc. We use this information, together with first hand knowledge and reviews of the scientific and online literature, to build up recommendations for each location listed on the website.
There are several ways to access this data. First you can search by place e.g. browse a list of all the possible sites sorted by country. Second, you can browse by particular species – for example, you can look for the best places to see a particular animal. Third, you can request the raw data we have collected which we are happy to provide to all of our users (note, personal contact information will never be shared).