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ConservationFIT helping track, preserve endangered species

It’s only really within our lifetimes that the conservation movement became something that was globally accepted and, more importantly, globally acted upon.

“I think going back to maybe the 1970s, people were just beginning to be aware of the fact that wilderness was not something that was endless, that was always going to be there,” says Zoe Jewell, a conservationist with office space at SAS based in Cary. “Animals were beginning to be taken out, rhinos were beginning to be poached.”

Her colleague Sky Alibhai, puts it in more dire terms: “It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that we are on the verge of facing the sixth extinction.” The last, being when the dinosaurs disappeared.

As Zoe and Sky would travel to places like Africa, doing their work, they knew they wanted a system of tracking animals that was better than tranquilizing them and then putting tracking collars on them.

“That really only worked on a one-animal-at-a-time basis. It's expensive, it's invasive, it's potentially detrimental to the animals, themselves,” says Zoe.

They worked with local bushmen to find the animals, and:

“As we would work with them, they used to laugh at us as we would use the radio transmitter, they'd say, ‘Why are you using that? The evidence is all around you, in front of you,’” says Zoe. "And we would test them, we would say, 'OK, well can you tell us who this footprint belongs to?' and we would go ahead and track them and, 9 times out of 10, they were right.”

“If we could only distill this information, what's going through the mind's eye, of the tracker, if you could convert that into figures,” says Sky, of their thoughts at the time.

Of course, that kind of work is what SAS and its business division, JMP, do so well.

They created software, using much of the information the bushmen were providing, called ConservationFIT -- FIT meaning footprint identification technology.

“Anywhere an animal leaves a footprint, we can start collecting that data on who's who and where they are,” says Sky.

And they’ve developed it in a way where any citizen scientist can contribute to the work of tracking and preserving endangered species.

“Capturing the data is so simple: All you need is a smart phone,” says Sky.

See how it works – and how you can help – in this edition of the Buckley Report.