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
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.