Unsung Heroes: Yasser Ansari

Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 in Blog, Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes: Yasser Ansari

Digital Pioneer for Wild Nature, Founder of Project Noah


At the 10th World Wilderness Congress we discovered hundreds of young activists who were working quietly behind the scenes to make the WILD vision a reality. We felt that these people’s activities should be recognised. In keeping with the knowledge that young people are the future, we asked our team of young trainee journalists in the press office to go out and interview them.

As a child, I was fascinated with/by nature, obsessed with insects, reptiles, amphibians – I loved it! As a result, I chose biology as my degree, particularly molecular biology. But when I was in the laboratory, I lost my motivation. I looked at the future of my career in science and I found myself becoming more and more specialized, working on one, very specific thing that only few people would care about. That was a little bit scary…

I wanted to broaden my knowledge and understanding. I was also interested in art technology, and designing programmes. In the early 2000s I glanced at mobile phones and was taken aback by how pervasive they were. If you look at them from the perspective of an invention, you could argue that a mobile is the most intimate piece of technology ever created. I knew it would change the world.

Putting all those things together, I wanted to use the availability of mobile phones to restore our connection with nature. That was the justification and the inspiration to create Project Noah and to design an app.

It was the first time in many years that I was able to freely create and develop a project that I was intimately interested in. With some friends from graduate school we thought that what was needed was a platform that allows the public to share their encounter with nature. It could be for fun, for identification or to help researchers across the world to gather data. We wanted to see if something around that concept could actually work. We have now created an app that will always be free, as it’s the core part of our mission.

The principal idea is to share. For example, you are walking down the street and see a bird that is really beautiful, so the first option is to share this experience very easily and quickly. The next concept is to be able to participate in missions – things you can go and look for – a combination of doing things for entertainment, for research, education which – all together – become tasks. The third is to share images which are go-tagged, so we get the position in the world where they were seen.

As the database grows, we can provide users with a crowd-source field guide – so that when you launch the app in Salamanca, you can see the wildlife that other people have seen around the area. The community becomes the eyes. At the moment we have over million go-tagged photographs from all seven continents and, in total, over 230,000 registered members! Our Number One Contributor of photos is actually from Spain, and he has shared more than 7,000 photo-observations.

Another part of our activity is to collaborate in after-school programmes, for example, with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEF), one of the largest educational organisations in the USA. There is another organization in Iquitos, Peru, which for more than 20 years has held workshops in the Amazon for foreigners – to introduce and teach the visitors about indigenous culture, history and heritage; all of which is then shared through Project Noah.

We hope to continue developing a project with the Cherokee – a Native American tribe that is trying to preserve its culture and language, with an emphasis on the natural world. Like most indigenous tribes, they have that certain respect, treatment and appreciation for nature, which can be seen in their language and way they use it to describe nature. But can we look at those important, iconic species in the same ways the various tribes depict them? With that mission we could teach not only young Cherokee, but also the whole world.

There are a lot of opportunities at WILD10. I connected with a man from the Salish-Kootenai tribe in Montana and now we are out looking for possibilities to cooperate.

The most important thing is that we need to remind our children that we are naturally scientists – we are born as curious creatures. We have questions about the world, we want to find answers and that is the essence. And although sometimes mistakes are made, it is alright, as all experts begin as amateurs. With Project Noah we are trying to create a touch point for the people to be driven by curiosity, and down the road we want them to realise that what they are doing is actually science.


This interview was conducted by Malwina Gan – Originally from Poland, Malwina is finishing her Masters Degree  in Latin American Studies at the University of Salamanca, Spain. She would like to work with the development of indigenous audiovisual communication.

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