September 23, 2009

Conservationists Use Cheetah Paw Prints For Identification

Researchers are using a variation on fingerprinting to monitor the movement of cheetahs in the wild.

According to BBC Earth News, conservationists are adopting a non-invasive technique that involves taking photographs of cheetah tracks to identify them.

Using the footprint identification technique (FIT), conservationists have been able to monitor the movements of other species, including endangered ones like bengal tigers or polar bears.

Conservation groups Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary, Wildtrack, AfriCat and Chester Zoo recently began using the technique to monitor cheetahs for the first time.

Researchers told BBC that Nambia locals have been using the fingerprinting method to identify animals for several years.

The method works along the same lines of human fingerprinting techniques in that cheetah prints can be characterized by size, shape and character.

Researchers use images of prints in the Naankuse sanctuary in central Namibia, Africa and Chester Zoo in the UK to create a digital database by which they can identify individual cheetahs without ever having to lay eyes on them.

Conservationists are hoping to broaden the scale of their database to include wild cheetahs, allowing for better monitoring.

The method will also allow researchers to identify "problem animals" so that relocation and protection can be applied.

"It is extremely important because you can never catch and collar all cheetah to find out about their population size and structure, their interactions and how the population changes over time," Florian Weise, coordinator of the N/a'an ku sê research, told BBC News.


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