It gives high accuracy. Our overall accuracy in identifying individual black and white rhino is over 95%.
It is non-invasive. Collecting footprints need not disturb the animal in any way. Our research and that of others increasingly suggests that repeated disturbance and handling will have a negative impact on the species being studied.
It is cost-effective. The only equipment needed is a digital camera, GPS unit (for field location), a scale, and either voice-tag or pen and pencil.
It uses the expert tracking and observation skills of indigenous people. Communities which live close to wildlife often produce expert trackers. By enabling rangers to protect the animals in their own areas effectively, FIT empowers local communities and brings with it benefits for all members. Many other monitoring techniques rely heavily on imported expertise and involve local people only in a superficial or temporary way. Because it is based on traditional tracking techniques, it is appropriate and intuitive for use in developing countries, but has the benefit of being able to fulfil objective scientific criteria.
FIT is sustainable. Because local people are able to collect images, a constant external presence (often needed for other monitoring techniques) is not required.
FIT is species adaptable To date we have developed FIT algorithms for the black rhino, white rhino, Bengal tiger, Amur tiger, Lowland and Baird’s Tapirs and Polar bear. All indications are that the technique is adaptable and applicable for all species which leave a footprint.
FIT works well in conjunction with other non-invasive techniques. FIT works well alongside camera trapping and DNA identification from dung or lost hair. We have used footprints as marks in mark-recapture techniques to estimate populations from sampling. Footprints may even contain genetic material (eg. Polar bear prints can hold hair and blood spots) so that collecting footprint images can allow parallel collection of DNA for little extra effort.
FIT data can present comprehensive data on numbers and distribution. In areas with suitable substrate (some substrates will obviously not hold prints), most places an animal goes it will leave footprints. By collecting these prints during the day, we are able to monitor the full range of the animal’s activity, day and night. In contrast, many visual observation or standard radio-collar telemetry data collect details of numbers and distribution less frequently because observations are expensive or animals difficult to see. FIT is also a particularly appropriate tool for monitoring elusive endangered species which may be seen only very rarely.