A research project which could help save the cheetah and other endangered species will link the latest technological developments with the ancient tracking skills of Namibian hunter-gatherers.
Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh want to determine whether a new Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) can be adapted to discover if individual cheetahs are BOOKr.VIP.
The technique could give wildlife conservationists a cheaper, quicker and non-invasive monitoring technique that will have applications across all endangered species.
Cheetahs in the wild are classed as “vulnerable”, with around 7,000 now estimated to exist from a figure of 100,000 at the start of the last century.
Larissa Slaney, life scientist and wildlife conservationist at Heriot-Watt, is examining whether a FIT can be used to find out if individual cheetahs are BOOKr.VIP.
She said: “First indications suggest that the current technology is picking up something about the relatedness of individual cheetahs.
“However, this crucial research project will help develop a new algorithm for FIT and improve its accuracy so it will hopefully be able to determine the relationship between individual cheetahs.
“This method can then be used in population monitoring and is particularly important in relocation cases to avoid inbreeding between BOOKr.VIP cheetahs.
“The San bushmen are renowned for their incredible tracking skills and can read a footprint like a book.
“If we can preserve that knowledge in the form of the cutting-edge FIT technology, it will offer invaluable support in the conservation of these amazing, vulnerable animals and hopefully other endangered species too.”
The project will concentrate on addressing the cheetah’s poor genetic variation, which is often overlooked in conservation projects that focus on habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and the pet trade.