Footprint identification (FIT)

FIT: The Footprint Identification Technique

Effective monitoring of endangered and iconic species is key to their survival.

WildTrack has developed an award-winning footprint identification technique (FIT) (www.cwheroes.org)  to identify endangered and elusive species which leave footprints.   FIT provides high levels of accuracy in identifying at the species, individual, age-class and sex levels.

To help stop the destruction of biodiversity we need comprehensive and sustainable wildlife monitoring technologies, which will provide the necessary framework data for decision-makers. Data on numbers and distribution have been extremely difficult to acquire, even for iconic and relatively well-funded species such as the tiger.  In 2008 India revised tiger populations downwards by 50% (from 3,700 down to 1,400) after a re-assessment of the monitoring strategy which had been used.

The left hind footprint of a tiger

The left hind footprint of a tiger

Endangered species are often monitored using invasive and costly approaches such as radio-telemetry (eg. fitting tracking devices to the animal), marking (eg. ear-notching, or transponder-fitting) and close-observation from vehicles or the air (eg aerial or ground surveys). All these approaches involve disturbance or direct physical handling of the animal. Evidence of deleterious effects on endangered species, ranging from decreased fertility to reduced body-weight and ranging behaviour, has come to light in the last decade, and is increasing. Perhaps the greatest problem with current techniques is their lack of sustainability. Fitting telemetry devices is very expensive, and therefore only a small proportion of the population can be monitored, and/or for a short time.

The Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) was developed to address these challenges; it is a non-invasive, cost-effective and sustainable method of identifying endangered species at the species, individual, sex or age-class levels of classification, using digital images of their footprints. FIT represents the distillation of ancient tracking skills into modern technology. Sky Alibhai and Zoe Jewell, who founded WildTrack in 2004, began to develop FIT while working with and observing the expert skills of indigenous trackers in Southern Africa.

Looking at footprints along a trail prior to imaging

Looking at footprints along a trail prior to imaging