WildTrack has partnered with the N/a ‘an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia to develop and validate the cheetah FIT algorithm.
How does FIT benefit cheetah monitoring? Despite years of study and considerable attention from the conservation community, our best cheetah range maps are still unable to provide reliable data on numbers and distribution – the two key priorities in any conservation strategy. The map below demonstrates this point well.
Our FIT cheetah reference database, developed with prints from 37 captive cheetah, yields 98% accuracy. Two recent blind-trials have been 100% accurate for individual, sex and age-class.
Much of Namibia’s land is commercial farmland, and wild cheetah range over this area also. Not surprisingly, many farmers who have lost livestock to cheetah have viewed this endangered species as vermin. The key to success in their conservation lies in finding ways for the farmers and cheetah to co-exist. Monitoring the numbers and distribution of cheetah enables researchers to advise farmers appropriately on protection and engage them in the conservation effort.
We’re also working with our friends at the AfriCat Foundation at Okonjima in Namibia on the development of the FIT Cheetah library of footprints. Okonjima has contributed footprints from several cheetah towards the database, which is now complete. We’re looking forward to working with them to help implement FIT for monitoring free-ranging cheetah!
Fit Cheetahs: A PhD research project by Larissa Slaney at Heriot-Watt University
There are fewer than 7000 individuals left in the wild with a decreasing population trend and the species is classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Two subspecies, the Asiatic (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) and the Northwest African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki), are even classed as Critically Endangered, which means they are likely to become extinct in the near future.
Fit Cheetahs is a PhD research project at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland run by Larissa Slaney. It investigates whether WildTrack’s innovative Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) can establish if two cheetahs are related. This would give wildlife conservationists a non-invasive monitoring technique to collect important field data, analyse cheetah populations and help develop better conservation policies. Because the cheetah suffers from poor genetic variation, FIT could then also be used to choose better release sites to reduce the risk of inbreeding.
Larissa Slaney works with the N/a’an ku sê Foundation in Namibia and several zoos in the UK and the UAE to ensure a large sample size of litter groups of different sub-species.
If you would like to find out more about this research or how to support it, please go to www.fitcheetahs.com.