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WildTrack Mountain Lion Project

Published on September 26, 2014 under Articles


Calling wildlife trackers. I need your help to gather photos of left-hind mountain lion tracks for a research project. See the protocol: WildTrack Cougar Protocol

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. The Footprint Identification Technology (FIT) they developed 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. You can read more about the mountain lion project here.

FIT could allow researchers to study mountain lions and estimate populations without having to use costly and invasive methods. While many similar efforts have happened in the past, this one is by far the most promising. 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.

Measurements analyzed by FIT in a mountain lion track.

Measurements analyzed by FIT in a mountain lion track.

I’ve already 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.

Preliminary tests on the footprints from captive mountain lions have yielded incredible results. However, the system can’t be based entirely on captive animals. We need tracks from wild mountain lions in order to ensure it’s effectiveness in the wild.

This is where you come in.

We need photos. The photo protocol are quite simple and straight forward. Next time you find some good quality mountain lion tracks, take photos with a ruler of 10-20 left hinds (if possible) and send them to me by email. Thanks!

WildTrack Cougar Protocol


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