Send us footprints!

WildTrack is partnering with field conservation groups to launch a new ConservationFIT project that can produce detailed, time-sensitive animal distribution maps for field conservationists.

Conservationists, citizen scientists and anyone who sees footprints of endangered species can upload them for us to analyse with FIT.  We’ll then output species identification algorithms for use by conservationists to identify animals by species, individual, sex and age class.

Below we give details on how to take the images.  You can upload your images for us at iNaturalist or contact us at conservationFIT@gmail.com for more information.

So how to take footprint images?!   We have a straightforward protocol (see below). We’re interested in footprints from all endangered or elusive species, and ConservationFIT is starting with cheetah, jaguar and snow leopard.

WildTrack monitoring black rhino in Etosha National Park, Namibia.

WildTrack monitoring black rhino in Etosha National Park, Namibia.

The technique will then be ready to use for monitoring these species in their local ecosystems.

There are two main categories of collection protocol

  1. Collecting from captive animals
  2. Collecting from wild animals.

For either, you will just need a digital camera or cellphone to capture images at around 1Mb per image,  a GPS, a pen and pencil.

Please look at the image collection protocol sections for captive and wild animals to find out more.

Oh, and send us a picture of youself taking the image….each month we’ll profile a ‘ConservationFIT hero’ who collects great footprint images!

Photographing free-ranging animal footprints

We need footprints from unknown free-ranging animals to test our captive-derived algorithms. Please take care not to disturb animals in their natural habitat, and if possible always take an experienced local tracker with you if you are going to walk for any distance in terrain which is unknown to you.

A white rhino footprint, taken in Namibia.

A white rhino footprint, taken in Namibia.

  1. Find a good fresh clear trail (unbroken series of footprints). If possible, we would like photographs of 10-15 left hind (LH) from the same trail (ie. same animal) If non-LH are good and available, please collect these also and label them. For bears use left FRONT prints.
  2. Organising the footprint for photography. Choose the first print and place a cm ruler as the scale on bottom and left hand axis, in relation to direction of travel. Make sure ruler does not obscure detail at all. See examples given below.
  3. A photo ID slip giving details of each footprint must be included in the photograph. This should contain the date and name of photographer and any information about the animal ID if known. ‘Footprint number’ refers to the number allocated to the footprint for that day’s work. Call the first LH print in the trail 1a, the second 1b, the third 1c etc. Footprints from a second trail will be 2a, 2b etc. If only occasional footprints are seen give each a different number. Indicate which foot, if known, under ‘Foot ID’.  A new feature in FIT allows for a depth recalibration.  Measure and record the depth at the centre of the footprint.
  4. Taking the digital photograph. Align yourself and camera lens directly overhead of the footprint, and fill the camera frame with the footprint, ruler and ID slip so that no space is wasted and the photo is filled with details of print. If possible, have a second person view you from the side to check that you are directly overhead, to avoid distortion of the image. Try to get the best possible light contrast – usually found early morning and later afternoon. Avoid casting shadow on the footprint.

Photographing captive animal footprints

Captive animal prints allow us to build an FIT algorithm for that species, ie. determine which footprint measurements allow us to identify individuals.

Please mail ConservationFIT@gmail.com with any questions!

A left hind tiger footprint: The image fills the frame, the scale is aligned left and bottom, and a photo ID slip is included.

A left hind tiger footprint: The image fills the frame, the scale is aligned left and bottom, and a photo ID slip is included.

1. Set up a trail along which the animals can walk, one at a time. You may need to bring some sand in to lay on the path to get a good substrate. This should be no more than 1cm thick, and slightly moist.

2. Once the first animal has walked along the trail, identify all the clear left hind prints on that trail, then organise the footprints for photography. If there are good clear prints from other feet please take these too. Choose the first print and place a cm ruler as the scale on bottom and left hand axis, in relation to direction of travel. Make sure ruler does not obscure detail at all. See examples given below.

3. A photo ID slip giving details of each footprint must be included in the photograph, or attached as a voice tag. This should contain the date and name of photographer and any information about the animal ID if known. ‘Footprint number’ refers to the number allocated to the footprint for that day’s work. Call the first LH print in the trail 1a, the second 1b, the third 1c etc. Footprints from a second trail will be 2a, 2b etc. If only occasional footprints are seen give each a different number. Indicate which foot, if known, under ‘Foot ID’

4. Taking the digital photograph. Align yourself and camera lens directly overhead of the footprint, and fill the camera frame with the footprint, ruler and ID slip so that no space is wasted and the photo is filled with details of print. If possible, have a second person view you from the side to check that you are directly overhead, to avoid distortion of the image. Try to get the best possible light contrast – usually found early morning and later afternoon. Avoid casting shadow on the footprint. Repeat this process until you have 15 or more left hind images.