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.

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


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


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


Sky Alibhai , Zoe Jewell , Jonah Evans



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…


PlosONE. Published: March 8, 2017.

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


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