FIT tech tracks rhinos via footprint photos
It's important to track the whereabouts of endangered black rhinoceroses, but doing so in the wilds of Namibia can be quite challenging – particularly if you don't want to physically tag them. That's where a new footprint identification system is designed to come in.
Known as the Footprint Identification Technique (FIT), the software-based setup was designed by scientists at North Carolina's Duke University.
Users start with a photograph of a footprint of an individual known black rhino. Utilizing custom algorithms, FIT then analyzes the image, making more than 100 measurements of the footprint. The specific combination of measurements that are obtained are unique to that rhino.
When footprint photos from various regions are subsequently fed into FIT, it checks to see if any of their measurement signatures match up with those that are in its database. If they do, then users will know where a given rhinoceros has travelled to since it was last observed – additionally, they'll know that it is indeed still out and about, as opposed to having been killed by poachers.
The system is also capable of differentiating between numerous footprints photographed at one location. This functionality lets FIT determine approximately how many rhinos are present in the area, allowing resources such as patrol vehicles to be allocated accordingly.
The scientists are now training wildlife conservationists, land managers, local guides and anti-poaching agents in the use of FIT. It will hopefully be used throughout Namibia, which is home to about 90 percent of the total worldwide black rhino population.
"If you find a match, you can identify the individual animal who left the mark and, by plotting the locations of all the other places that mark has been seen, track its movements without disturbing it or coming into close enough contact with it for there to be a risk of animal-to-human viral transmissions," says Assoc. Prof. Zoe Jewell, who co-led the study along with Assoc. Prof. Sky Alibhai. "It’s a cost-effective approach that not only protects the health of the rhino and the human, but also brings a centuries-old tracking skill into the 21st Century."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PeerJ.
Source: Duke University