Written by Johanna Reinhard, Scientific Manager, Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve, Namibia.

Kuzikus wildlife reserve comprises about 100 km2 in the Kalahari Desert with a landscape suitable for the black rhino. Six black rhinos were introduced into the reserve in 1997, when there were about 2000 left in whole of Africa. Black Rhinos on Kuzikus have bred successfully since with eight young being born over the past 13 years. Monitoring, however was irregular and performed with the help of Bushman trackers. Tracking is a highly complex skill, which involves many years of experience in the wild, traditionally being used to follow animals for hunting and interpreting behaviour. Unfortunately, high profile trackers necessary for monitoring of large wild animals are not readily available and tracking skills among bushmen seem to get lost.

WildTrack developed the idea of a footprint identification technique (FIT) as a tracking method that is scientifically rigorous, objective and replicable. Based on the image analysis of an animal track, it can identify individual rhinos on the basis of the footprint without disturbing the animals.

FIT is cheap, non-invasive and easily employable in the field. With those advantages, FIT can help Biological Research in Kuzikus (BRinK) to understand movement patterns and behaviour of black rhinos, as well as to localise individuals on a regular basis for monitoring. The aim is to demonstrate the suitability of FIT together with local trackers for black rhino monitoring and scientific research in Namibia.
At BRinK we are now promoting next year’s projects

The Bird Diversity project is running between the 5th and 30th September;

The Black Rhino project is running between the 31st October and 25th November.

The striped hyena in Eastern Turkey

map of TurkeyThe Arab word for striped hyenas, dhubba, is alluded in a valley in Palestine known as Shaqq-ud-Diba (meaning “cleft of the hyenas”) and Wadi-Abu-Diba (meaning “valley of the hyenas”) and the species has an important place in middle-eastern cumap of Turkeyltural history, where it is still found today. However the species is widely persecuted, and the situation is critical in Turkey; the last remaining individuals of this species are found in the far east of the country. There are no comprehensive population monitoring studies.
Antakya, Turkey, the area of the study site

The striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena).

The striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena).

Our partner in this project is İsmet Ceyhun Yıldırım, a forest biologist and engineer, based in Sütçü İmam University, Kahramanmaraş, Turkey. He has just finished his masters in Wildlife Ecology and Management under supervision of Prof. Dr. Selçuk İnaç, at Faculty of Forestry.

In 2009 we were awarded an inaugural grant from the Mohamed bin Zayed foundation in Abu Dhabi to conduct an assessment of the utility of FIT for monitoring this endangered species, and are currently trying to acquire footprints from captive animals for the extraction of the FIT algorithm for this species.

We have found many footprints in and around caves inhabited by this shy creature, and set up infra-red and incandescent light camera-traps with prepared sand areas baited with fishmongers waste. We hope to have images of animals to match tracks in the coming months. Meantime we have interviewed local trackers and approached local schools to establish an educational programme to raise awarenesss of the plight of this species.

The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund

Tiger footprinting video

Here’s a short video showing how WildTrack and SAS volunteers collect footprints from tigers at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, for the development of a tiger footprint algorithm.

WildTrack has been working with SAS volunteers to collect footprints from tigers at Carolina Tiger Rescue for several years.  We now have an excellent database of footprints from animals of known age and sex, and have used this to build an FIT tiger algorithm.  We’re now working with a tiger project in Rajasthan to test the algorithm on wild animals.