A Photo-Identification Data Management System for Individually Recognizable Animals

About the Software

Individual photographic identification (photo-ID) represents a powerful technique to study behavioural and population ecology of free-ranging animals. This approach has been applied across species and habitats, both aquatic and terrestrial, gathering a large variety of data.

All photo-ID studies require many hours of intensive field surveys and even longer hours of subsequent, labour-intensive processing of photographic material. Thanks to the recent advances in digital photography, high quality digital images can be obtained in a short space of time and the photo-ID data can be processed immediately upon the completion of a field day, even in remote locations where processing of traditional photographic material would not have been possible. However, such fast accumulation of data can pose an obvious and often considerable obstacle to data management. This is where DISCOVERY comes handy; it provides a dynamic, user-friendly platform to assist researchers not only with the matching of individual photo-ID data, but also at the multitude of steps of field data collection and the complex data management and analyses that follow after individual matching is completed.

The DISCOVERY system assists with filtering of raw data and all levels of individual-ID matching; it assists with processing, storing and managing digital images; it provides file naming routines and links sighting information with environmental, geographic, and numerous user-defined parameters; it provides graphic displays of data and basic analytical tools. DISCOVERY can be used to centralize a database for multiple species and multiple study areas; it is particularly useful for maintaining a single database for research projects collecting data at large geographical scales and between multiple research teams working on different databases. DISCOVERY also provides a means of linking the new system with traditional datasets based on film photography, to form continuous complete datasets. The DISCOVERY system has been designed so that it can easily facilitate integration of all collected and stored data to and from other tools; with a multitude of dynamic functions it was designed to meet project-specific requirements and user-specific needs.

Development Team

Principal Investigator Team:
    • Glenn Gailey
    • Leszek Karczmarski

Academic Home Institutions:
    • The Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), The University of Hong Kong (HKU)
    • Mammal Research Institute (MRI), University of Pretoria

Affiliated Institution:
    • Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG)

Funding Organizations:
    • National Research Foundation (NRF), South Africa
    • Research Grants Council (RGC), Hong Kong
    • Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK)
    • The University of Hong Kong 

Manual compiled by:
    • Simon W.H. Wong
    • Glenn Gailey
    • Stephen C.Y. Chan
    • Olga Sychenko
    • Carmen K.M. Or
    • Sze-Wing Yiu
    • Wei-Lun Chang
    • Caryn Behrmann
    • Leszek Karczmarski 



• Windows operating system (XP/Vista/7/8/10)

Recommended Software:

• Microsoft Access / OpenOffice Base
• EasyGPS

Download Discovery

Citation Details:

Gailey G. & Karczmarski L. (2012). DISCOVERY: Photo-identification data-management system for individually recognizable animals. Web address:

Disclaimer: DISCOVERY is a freely available software. This software is provided by the copyright holders and contributors "as is". In no event shall the copyright owners or contributors be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, or consequential damages (including, but not limited to, procurement of substitute goods, or services; loss of use, data, or profits; or business interruption) however caused and on any theory of liability, whether in contract, strict liability, or tort (including negligence or otherwise) arising in any way out of the use of this software. By downloading DISCOVERY, you acknowledge acceptance of this agreement.