WildTrack has developed a non-invasive Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) which can identify endangered animals at the species, individual, age-class and sex levels. Animals have unique feet, in the same way that humans have unique fingerprints. This allows us to monitor their status and work with decision-makers in environmental and conservation sciences to implement effective policies.Polar bear front view
Using footprints to monitor endangered species is non-invasive and cost-effective. It is therefore a sustainable solution, particularly for elusive species, and sustainability is vital if conservation is to be successful. Moreover, since FIT is based on the ancient tracking techniques used by indigenous trackers, it engages local communities in the conservation effort – this too is generally recognised to be essential to the success of any wildlife conservation effort.
Footprints can be found on a variety of different substrates. This left front footprint image from a Polar bear illustrates the excellent detail which can be obtained, even in snow, one of the most challenging substrates to work with.
WildTrack has projects helping develop and implement FIT across the world, from the Polar bear in the Arctic to the mountain lion in Texas, to the cheetah in Southern Africa…..even the tiny dormouse in the UK.
Helping us in our work are experts in computer vision, statistics, software and design engineering, forensics, biometrics, photography and the life sciences. Why not explore our site and come join us?!
Why the need to monitor endangered species? We face an unprecedented crisis in the loss of biodiversity on our planet. UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program, estimates that between 150 and 200 species are currently being lost every day. The renowned American evolutionary biologist, E.O, Wilson estimated that by 2100, half of all our current species will be lost if we continue as we are. This mass extinction is due, in large part, to unsustainable methods of production and consumption. We estimate that there may be as many as 100 million different species on this planet, of which only 1.7 million have been identified.
The Global Mammal Assessment, presented in 2008 by more than 1800 research groups in 130 countries indicated that between 25 and 36% of all mammal species may be in danger of extinction, due to various threats ranging from habitat destruction or ecosystem change such as reduction of prey species, illegal poaching and climate change.
A further 836 species have such a paucity of data on numbers and distribution that we are unable to ascertain their status. This is a potentially catastrophic change to the world as we know it today. Many of these endangered species are flagships for their ecosystems. If they go, our motivation to protect their environments will be much reduced.
However, there are many approaches to a successful conservation strategy. The top priority, most conservationists would now agree, is firstly to secure and protect the natural habitat required by each species in as pristine an ecological state as possible, and then secondly to monitor the progress of species within that habitat. We urgently need methods for monitoring which will be cost-effective, objective and non-invasive, to give us the data we need on the numbers and distribution of these endangered species.