The footprint identification technique (FIT) is a tool for monitoring endangered species.
This technique was developed by WildTrack, working with indigenous tracking experts in Southern Africa. From digital images of footprints, FIT can identify species, individuals, age-class and sex.
This video shows how FIT works step-by-step:
From: Jewell, Z. C., Alibhai, S. K., Weise, F., Munro, S., Van Vuuren, M., & Van Vuuren, R. (2016). Spotting Cheetahs: Identifying Individuals by Their Footprints. Journal of visualized experiments: JoVE, (111).
The two main steps in the FIT procedure are:
1. The capture of footprints and conversion of a footprint into a geometric profile which serves as the data.
2. Analyses to which the data are submitted for the purpose of classification.
Identifying footprints (tracks) is analogous to fingerprinting, but much more complex! Firstly, each species has a different foot anatomy and FIT must be flexible enough to produce a customized species algorithm – the set of variables which determine the characteristics of that species. Secondly, within each species, each individual has its own unique foot characteristics, analogous to our fingerprints. Thirdly, each individual has four feet and it is necessary to identify which track results from each foot in order to standardize the analytical procedures.
Lastly, each time the individual puts a foot on the ground, it leaves a slightly different track. This is determined by many factors, including the gait of the animal, substrate type, moisture levels and weather conditions. In order to account for the variation of tracks along the same trail (i.e. made by the same animal), we collect 6 – 8 different tracks from each trail.