Identifying Individual Mountain Lions from Footprints
I have been working for several years now with Zoe Jewell and Sky Alibhai from WildTrack on a system for identifying individual mountain lions from their tracks. We recently published an article in the open access journal PLOS One and it’s available to read in its entirety here.
The Footprint Identification Technology (FIT) developed by WildTrack is an incredible method for accurately identifying individual animals from photos of their tracks and has already been used with tapirs, cheetahs, tigers, polar bears, hyenas and more.
Our work could enable researchers to study mountain lions and estimate populations without having to use costly and invasive methods. FIT uses measurements taken from photos of 10-20 left-hind footprints from multiple known individuals in order to “learn” the variation within each individual and between different individuals and to create a reference database. The system then creates a complex algorithm that is best able to identify each individual.
For this project I traveled to captive facilities across Texas and collected 10-20 left-hind tracks from 38 individual mountain lions. This was no small task. See the video below for an example of how I collected the tracks. Most situations were much more difficult than this. Check out the article to learn more.