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SOS Rhino : Research, Projects and Grants : Rhinoceros Reproduction Program : Recent Projects : Kilbourn and Colleagues Congregate in Congo
 

Kilbourn and Colleagues Congregate in Congo

  In May and June, Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn traveled to Gabon to start a gorilla health evaluation and
monitoring program and work with multiple non-governmental organizations to develop human and animal disease transmission prevention protocols associated with gorilla habitats. In the tri-national region of Gabon, the Congo, and the Central African Republic, the rise of tourism associated with the western low-land gorillas occurs in protected and unprotected habitat. Kilbourn and her colleagues believe that tourism should not prove detrimental to the animals or humans involved.

"Although the African gorilla's relevance to the Sumatran rhino may not be obvious, if one spends a few days on the project, the connection becomes clear," says Kilbourn. Having learned skills and novel technologies from park managers and experienced rangers, Dr. Kilbourn can now transfer techniques gained in the forests of Africa to Asia, where she studies the Sumatran rhino. Field skills are meant to be shared, because they can be used on any species or environment in need of conservation. Remote data collection devices, wildlife censoring, zoonotic disease evaluation, and preventative health programs are not specific to gorillas. Similar issues face these charismatic megaherbivores, and their future depends on collaborative efforts.

A comprehensive health evaluation, consistent among the sites where gorillas live, will allow for long-term health monitoring of this species. The on-site collaborators include the respective countries' wildlife departments (Congo and Gabon) ECOFAC (a French friend of Central African ecosystems) WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

In Gabon's capital, Dr. Kilbourn met with Jean-Marc Froment and Conrad Averley from ECOFAC, which helps manage several wildlife-protected areas in Gabon and Congo, to discuss feasibility, logistics, and participants. The ECOFAC team was very interested in promoting the development of the gorilla program. Dr. Kilbourn also conducted several site visits at Odzala, in the Congo, to meet with field researchers and participating eco-guards to discuss bilingual field-friendly sample and data-collection protocols for trial evaluation. The group agreed on the data to be collected, location, and participants. They also agreed to integrate this information electronically into handheld computers called the Palm or Visor, which are used by patrol units and researchers. The software is called CyberTracker.

CyberTracker software on handheld computers allows the group in the field to enter data as they observe animals in the field. The point is to make tracking as universal and exact as possible. When trackers see an elephant, all they have to do is turn on their handheld device, enter their ID, and click on a picture of an elephant. An attachment called a GPS, or global positioning system, records the latitude and longitude of the animal observed. The collected data can then be exported into an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis.

In Odzala, the CyberTracker pilot project collected more than 35,000 observations in the first 18 months.

Kilbourn is now pursuing a grant from the Handspring Foundation so that the staff of SOS Rhino in Borneo can use the new technology to track Sumatran rhinos at the Tabin wildlife preserve.



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