Category Archives: 6 Conservation

Animal Counting Toolkit: a practical guide to small-boat surveys for estimating abundance of coastal marine mammals.

Rob Williams, Erin Ashe, Katie Gaut, Rowenna Gryba, Jeffrey E. Moore, Eric Rexstad, Doug Sandilands, Justin Steventon, Randall R. Reeves.

Endang Species Res. Vol. 34: 149–165, 2017

ABSTRACT: Small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) face serious anthropogenic threats in coastal habitats. These include bycatch in fisheries; exposure to noise, plastic and chemical pollution; disturbance from boaters; and climate change. Generating reliable abundance estimates is essential to assess sustainability of bycatch in fishing gear or any other form of anthropogenic removals and to design conservation and recovery plans for endangered species. Cetacean abundance estimates are lacking from many coastal waters of many developing countries. Lack of funding and training opportunities makes it difficult to fill in data gaps. Even if international funding were found for surveys in developing countries, building local capacity would be necessary to sustain efforts over time to detect trends and monitor biodiversity loss. Large-scale, shipboard surveys can cost tens of thousands of US dollars each day. We focus on methods to generate preliminary abundance estimates from low-cost, small-boat surveys that embrace a ‘training-while-doing’ approach to fill in data gaps while simultaneously building regional capacity for data collection. Our toolkit offers practical guidance on simple design and field data collection protocols that work with small boats and small budgets, but expect analysis to involve collaboration with a quantitative ecologist or statistician. Our audience includes independent scientists, government conservation agencies, NGOs and indigenous coastal communities, with a primary focus on fisheries bycatch. We apply our Animal Counting Toolkit to a smallboat survey in Canada’s Pacific coastal waters to illustrate the key steps in collecting line transect survey data used to estimate and monitor marine mammal abundance.

Click to access n034p149.pdf

Smartphone Icon User Interface design for non-literate trackers and its implications for an inclusive citizen science

backwards-compatible

Louis LiebenbergJustin Steventon!Nate BrahmanKarel BenadieJames MinyeHorekhwe (Karoha) LangwaneQuashe (/Uase) Xhukwe

Abstract

In 1996 we developed an Icon User Interface design for handheld computers that enabled non-literate trackers to enter complex data. When employed in large numbers over extended periods of time, trackers can gather large quantities of complex, rich biodiversity data that cannot be gathered in any other way. One significant result in the Congo was that data collected by trackers made it possible to alert health authorities to outbreaks of Ebola in wild animal populations, weeks before they posed a risk to humans. Trackers can also play a critical role in preventing the decimation of large mammal fauna due to poaching. Collectively, the seven case studies reviewed in this paper demonstrate the richness and complexity of scientific data contributed by community-based citizen science. Furthermore, trackers can also make novel contributions to science, demonstrated by scientific papers co-authored by trackers. This may have far-reaching implications for the development of an inclusive citizen science. Community-based tracking can significantly contribute to large-scale, long-term monitoring of biodiversity on a worldwide basis. However, community-based citizen science in developing countries will require international support to be sustainable.

Download pdf of paper here…

 

The challenge of monitoring elusive large carnivores: An accurate and cost-effective tool to identify and sex pumas (Puma concolor) from footprints

journal.pone.0172065.g003

Sky Alibhai , Zoe Jewell , Jonah Evans

Abstract

 

Acquiring reliable data on large felid populations is crucial for effective conservation and management. However, large felids, typically solitary, elusive and nocturnal, are difficult to survey. Tagging and following individuals with VHF or GPS technology is the standard approach, but costs are high and these methodologies can compromise animal welfare. Such limitations can restrict the use of these techniques at population or landscape levels. In this paper we describe a robust technique to identify and sex individual pumas from footprints. We used a standardized image collection protocol to collect a reference database of 535 footprints from 35 captive pumas over 10 facilities; 19 females (300 footprints) and 16 males (235 footprints), ranging in age from 1–20 yrs. Images were processed in JMP data visualization software, generating one hundred and twenty three measurements from each footprint. Data were analyzed using a customized model based on a pairwise trail comparison using robust cross-validated discriminant analysis with a Ward’s clustering method. Classification accuracy was consistently > 90% for individuals, and for the correct classification of footprints within trails, and > 99% for sex classification. The technique has the potential to greatly augment the methods available for studying puma and other elusive felids, and is amenable to both citizen-science and opportunistic/local community data collection efforts, particularly as the data collection protocol is inexpensive and intuitive.

Read article here…

PLOS-One

PlosONE. Published: March 8, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172065

Early Days of CyberTracker

This video from ABC News: Tracking Animals With GPS from the year 2000 takes us back to the early days of CyberTracker. At that time, we had one CyberTracker running on an Apple Newton unit in the Karoo National Park in South Africa and just started our second project with the Kwe San Bushmen in Namibia, using the PalmPilot.

Video: ABC News – Tracking Animals With GPS

ABC-News

CyberTracker data shows impact of Ebola on Lowland Gorillas

GorillaThe outbreak of Ebola in West Africa have resulted in huge cost in human lives and economic losses. Even the indirect economic impact on Africa as a whole has been huge as tourists have cancelled visits to Africa due to the fear of Ebola. In future it may be more cost-effective to monitor signs of potential outbreaks of Ebola among wildlife, especially along trade routes that may spread Ebola to highly populated areas.

The BBC reports that Bill Gates says “surveillance systems” are needed to spot the signs of a disease outbreak earlier and prevent crises like the Ebola situation in West Africa. See BBC Report here.

A cost-effective solution may include forest patrols especially along trade routes that could introduce Ebola via bush meat to high population areas. As indicated by the attached images, Ebola may be introduced to humans via the consumption of Duiker and Bush Pig. Using CyberTracker to monitor the tracks & signs of Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Duiker and Bush Pig may indicate potential outbreaks of Ebola even before it infects human populations.

Data collected from 2000 to 2003 by trackers working for the ECOFAC programme and using the CyberTracker have showed up the extent of the Lowland Gorilla mortality due to Ebola in the Lossi Sanctuary, Republic of Congo.

Wild animal outbreaks began before each of the 5 human Ebola outbreaks. Twice we alerted the health authorities to an imminent risk for human outbreaks, weeks before they occurred.

Impact of Ebola 1

Impact of Ebola 2

Impact of Ebola 3

This information has been confirmed by the Spanish primatologist, Dr Magdalena Bermejo, who has studied the gorillas in Lossi for ten years, and by the veterinaries of the International Medical Research Center of Franceville (CIRMF).

All the eight families (139 individuals) followed by Dr Bermejo since 1994 have now disappeared from the study area (40 km2). Two of these families were habituated to human presence. This habituation was not only a first with lowland gorillas but also was a first sight tourism experience in association with villages.

The CIRMF veterinaries have been able to collect a lot of samples and to confirm the presence of the virus in Chimpanzees and Gorillas. And, carcasses from other species have been found in the same area. Abundance indications collected on other species by the trackers, such as Duiker and Bush Pig, (see table) indicates that these species were also infected by Ebola.

Ebola, like other emerging diseases, remains a critical area of study to be explored not only to understand large primate dynamics and for their conservation, but for its potential impact on humans.

Wild animal mortality monitoring and human Ebola outbreaks

National Otter Survey of Ireland Recommends CyberTracker Certification for Europe

otter

The European Commission Habitats Directive requires that changes in the conservation status of designated species are monitored. Nocturnal and elusive species are difficult to count directly and thus population trajectories are inferred by variation in the incidence of field signs.

The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), listed by the IUCN as ‘near threatened’, is monitored throughout Europe using the ‘Standard Otter Survey’ method. The report explores the reliability of this approach by analysing species incidence throughout Ireland.

Surveillance of wild animal populations is notoriously problematic due to the difficulty in detecting individuals directly and the associated costs of surveying remote areas or rough terrain. For nocturnal and elusive species, researchers frequently sacrifice quantifying abundance and concentrate on determining patch occupancy. Consequently, indirect survey methods that record species presence using tracks, faeces or scent markings have become standard protocol for many species. These have comparatively low costs and, therefore, are widely used not only for assessing distribution and abundance but also in studies of habitat selection, behaviour and diet. However, binary presence/absence data are vulnerable to both Type I (false positive), and more significantly, Type II (false negative) errors.

False positives occur when the target species is recorded erroneously, for example by the misidentification of scats or where transient individuals are detected but are not resident whilst false negatives occur when the target species goes undetected at a site at which it occurs due to the apparent absence of field signs. Such errors can result in highly biased estimates of site occupancy, population size and habitat use. False positives can be avoided by surveyor training and testing as provided by the CyberTracker Certification used in the USA to quantify the skills of field observers (see http://trackercertification.com) or by independent verification, for example, DNA testing faeces to confirm the target species identity.

Quantifying the skills of observers working on wildlife surveys to be used as an explanatory variable in data analysis would be helpful. Thus, it is essential to accurately record the identity of surveyors and estimate their reliability during pre-survey training. For otter surveys throughout Europe, it may be beneficial to develop a similar programme to that offered by the CyberTracker Certification in the USA to provide an objective test of an observer’s reliability (see http://trackercertification.com).

Read the full Report here…

Reviving a dying art

by Alexa Schoof Marketos

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Louis Liebenberg’s revolutionary CyberTracker, a method of GPS-supported field data collection that replicates the ancient art of tracking, is now available as an Android-compatible version for use on many tablets and smartphones.This major step forward in the CyberTracker project is likely to bring about a quantum leap in the number of users worldwide for a multitude of purposes.

In the 1990s, Louis Liebenberg’s intention was simply to revive the dying art of tracking. This has taken the South African scientist and tracking expert much further than he had anticipated, leading him to implement a multi-pronged, constantly evolving approach, harnessing technology, community engagement and academic research to safeguard this ancient skill.

Working with software developer Justin Steventon, Liebenberg’s original solution was to develop a state-of-the-art conservation tool, CyberTracker, for which he won a Rolex Award in 1998.This software can be loaded on most hand-held computers, but its innovation and effectiveness lie in the use of stylized images, rather than words, for data capturing: an easily customized menu of icons can be adapted to any user requirement and a simple tap on the relevant icon records the observation and its exact geographic location.

Liebenberg is continually refining and upgrading CyberTracker, and, in early 2013, he released an Android-compatible version. “This means the application can now be used on tablets or smartphones,” explains Liebenberg. “My next upgrade will, I hope, enable CyberTracker for the iPhone, but software development is expensive, and obtaining funding is difficult. My work and my passion are in the field, but to raise funds I need to be in the city. It is a dilemma.”

Free online

CyberTracker is available free online and, to date, there have been more than 70,000 downloads in 210 countries (compared with about 30,000 in 75 countries up until 2008). “Distributing CyberTracker as freeware has allowed numerous independent initiatives to get off the ground, which I hope will result in the unrestricted growth of environmental monitoring projects worldwide,” says Liebenberg.

Research in South Africa’s game reserves has been boosted by CyberTracker, as Welgevonden Private Game Reserve’s Nungubane Game Lodge general manager Richard Blackshaw relates: “The reserve researchers use CyberTracker and they always comment on how fantastic it is to use in the field, that it has made their jobs so much easier. For our rangers, it helps as we can now identify and log specific animals at specific locations, significantly improving our ability to locate rare species on our game drives.”

CyberTracker is extremely versatile. It is being used for scientific research, citizen science, education, farming, social and health surveys, crime prevention and disaster relief. “A project in eastern Indonesia used the software to identify gaps in health services and to enable more effective and equitable delivery of scarce health resources to remote regions,” explains Liebenberg.

“In South Africa the software is being used to help reduce rhino poaching: CyberTracker can track individual rhinos by identifying the distinctive pattern of cracks in their hoofs. By tracking their movements, we can know where rhinos drink and sleep, and scarce anti-poaching units can be moved to those areas where rhinos are most vulnerable. As every person has an individual mannerism in the way he or she walks, leaving a ‘signature’ in his or her spoor, expert trackers can also track the poachers themselves.”

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of expert trackers. South Africa has only three Master Trackers (the highest grading a tracker can achieve) and Botswana four. According to Liebenberg, it will take at least another 10 to 20 years before a strong core of Master Trackers can be trained.

In 2012, Liebenberg established the Tracker Institute within the Thornybush Game Reserve in the greater Kruger National Park, South Africa, to mentor and train trackers. He is currently mentoring 12 potential Senior Trackers, including three women, and three potential Master Trackers. “Tracking needs to be recognized as a specialized profession because as long as trackers are held in low esteem, young people will have no motivation to qualify themselves as trackers,” Liebenberg explains. “My aim is to mentor the next generation of Master Trackers, and having female Senior Trackers on board will greatly help to break down the stereotypes and attract a broader field of trackers.”

To further enhance the status of tracking, Liebenberg has published a book (his fifth) entitled The Origin of Science: On the Evolutionary Roots of Science and its Implications for Self-Education and Citizen Science. Available as a free, downloadable PDF on cybertracker.org, the book addresses how the human mind evolved the cognitive ability for scientific reasoning, which Liebenberg believes is an innate ability in all humans.

He theorizes that the ability of early humans to track animals reflected and developed this evolutionary path. The book has received favourable reviews: Steven Pinker, Harvard University professor of psychology and leading author, says: “His data are precious, his stories gripping and his theory is a major insight into the nature and origins of scientific thinking, and thus of what makes us unique as a species.”

Liebenberg was prompted to write the book to open the world of science to ordinary people, people whom he believes have been discouraged from participating in science because of its increasingly professionalized nature. “If I can encourage even a small number of young, innovative people to follow their passion for science, the impact on science could be significant. Moreover, the implications for community participation in science are far-reaching. Imagine communities throughout the world gathering data…citizens gathering data on birds, animals, plants…millions of people all over the world, having their data on the Internet, creating a worldwide network to monitor the global ecosystems in real time.”

With CyberTracker as the tool behind the science, Liebenberg is making a significant and practical contribution to sustaining our environment.

Read more at Rolex Awards Blog & News

Emerging Technologies: Smarter ways to fight wildlife crime

UNEP Global Environmental Alert Services

UNEP-tech

Photo: CyberTracker workshop organised by the African Wildlife Foundation

The illegal trade of animals – for luxury goods, traditional medicine or cultural ceremonies, pets, entertainment, and even research – is a major threat to wildlife conservation and welfare (Baker et al., 2013). Poachers and illegal traders use highly sophisticated and rapidly changing techniques to avoid detection. To keep pace with the “war on wildlife”, conservation and law enforcement communities have started to adopt cutting-edge military tools and techniques. High-tech equipment can magnify counter-poaching efforts without requiring armies of rangers or risking lives. Tools include acoustic traps, mobile technology, mikrokopters, radio frequency identification tags, encrypted data digital networks, camera traps, DNA testing, radio collars, metal scanners, and satellite imagery.

Download pdf Document here