My Experience Tracking Rhinos in Namibia with WildTrack

By Katrina Leser, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida

My involvement with WildTrack began a little over a year ago while interning at an elephant research and education facility in South Africa.


WildTrack was beginning to investigate the possibility of creating an FIT algorithm for African elephants and I was tasked with the job of collecting the initial stockpile of photos from which Zoe and Sky could base their measurements. It was a straightforward project and a good introduction to the processes used in footprinting; I simply had to walk the tamed animals across a pre-raked sandpit, then place the ruler next to the prints and take photos. After taking a couple hundred pictures, I assumed I had mastered the task.

When I arrived in Namibia this summer to help with the rhino pilot program, I was in for a shock.

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Rhino monitoring in Namibia

WildTrack teams led by Dr Peter Law in Namibia are monitoring black rhino for the Namibian government.  We’re running pilots at three different locations (confidentiality maintained for security) using FIT and matching heel patterns to individuals for quick reference.  Horseback monitoring can also allow our teams to cover more ground in some areas. We hope to unroll to a much larger area over the next two years to provide cost-effective and community-friendly conservation for rhino.

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New publication in PLoS ONE

Calling puma conservationists!  Monitoring the puma is challenging; they are shy and elusive. We’ve just published a new, non-invasive approach using footprint identification:

Alibhai S, Jewell Z, Evans J (2017) The challenge of monitoring elusive large carnivores: An accurate and cost-effective tool to identify and sex pumas (Puma concolor) from footprints. PLOS ONE 12(3): e0172065. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172065

FIT for Otters in Suffolk

FIT is being used to identify otters in collaboration with the Suffolk-based Stanny Field Centre in the UK (http://www.stannyfarm.org/Field/otterProj.html).  This Centre recently hosted the first FIT otter workshop, taught by Frederick Kistner, an otter ecologist.  It was a great success, and the first step towards monitoring the ongoing recovery of wild otters.

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Participants engaging in a Q &A session with WildTrack.

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