The idea came from working with local trackers in Zimbabwe. These footprint-reading experts can identify individual black rhinos from the shape of their feet and, when visible, the impressions left by cracks in the animals’ heel pads, which are as distinctive as a human fingerprint. “We probably wouldn’t even have looked at the footprints in the first place if we didn’t have Indigenous trackers,” says Sky Alibhai, co-founder of conservation organization WildTrack and study co-lead.
To use the system, scientists gather rhino footprint images with a smartphone application and upload the pictures to a global database. FIT software analysis can then identify the individual animal and determine its age and sex with up to 99 percent accuracy. Researchers can also estimate the number of black rhinos in an area and watch their movements.
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