WCN – Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program
Improving Ethiopian Wolf Monitoring
The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) works to protect the Ethiopian wolves, a highland endemic, from extinction. EWCP aims to improve the quality of the data collected by its committed team of wolf monitors with electronic handheld tablets and appropriate training. A more reliable and rapid method of centralizing the Ethiopian wolf monitoring data will help conservation institutions, protected areas, and local governments to make better use of the information collected, which includes disease epizootics, particularly rabies, captures and vaccinations, and ecological monitoring. By utilizing a web-based display of the monitoring data, EWCP will better engage the general public – most of whom will never get to see an Ethiopian wolf – in conservation and fundraising activities.
Key Objectives and Activities
Electronic handheld tablets, with custom-designed software, will facilitate and improve data collection in the field by enthusiastic wolf monitors and members of EWCP’s veterinary and education teams. Bypassing the good old pen and paper, EWCP will directly merge the standardized data into the central database, run improved scripts to extract information almost instantaneously, and post the information online via an interactive mapping interface. A final meeting will gather partners and collaborators to explain and find ways in which the information can be shared.
- Programmed handheld tablets with functions and scripts for field use and database uploads;
- Trained and confident monitoring, veterinary and education teams using handhelds to record data relevant to the project monitoring and conservation activities;
- Improved data quality due to more effective data collection system and database;
- Enhanced quality and timing of information available to the education and veterinary teams; and
- Web-based display of the dynamic monitoring data through the project’s website.
- Improved monitoring using handheld tablets will benefit research on Ethiopian wolf behaviors of conservation interest, such as interactions with other carnivores and dogs, livestock predation and interactions with humans, and improve estimates of population size, including the more remote populations that are difficult to monitor.
- EWCP’s management and conservation decisions rely on understanding the population trends of populations, enabling EWCP to advocate for specific conservation actions with both federal and regional government partners.
- Reliable data servers to sustain an early warning system for outbreaks of rabies and canine distemper virus among wolves, which can be particularly virulent.
- Better coordination of management activities and better interpretation of the threats facing the wolves by stakeholders.
Last Updated: February 28th, 2017
Results to Date
The project concluded in early 2015, having met all of its major objectives. Mobile technologies are now fully integrated into how EWCP monitors wolves, plans fieldwork and programs, and interacts with key stakeholders.
The EWCP staff has been fully trained and are now confident users of the app and hardware. The technology and training upgrades demonstrated their utility in a trial by fire, during a major rabies outbreak in 2014. By increasing the efficiency of data communication, the app and tablets enabled the team to track the trajectory of the disease in space and time, recording geo-referenced observations of carcasses and vaccinations of wolves and domestic dogs. The technology improved the efficacy of the response. The emergency, in turn, provided an acid test for the new data collection gear, pinpointing opportunities for improvement that could further enhance use of the technology. Much of the recently-collected data have been posted on the Wolf Mapper site, showing the rabies outbreak and response in interactive maps, and the enhanced database reports have been used to keep stakeholders informed on population trends and conservation progress.
Primary Software Platforms
Nexus Tables 7 with Android apps, developed by WildKnowledge, UK; File Maker (database); My Maps (Google product) for Wolf Mapper
Poster: Marino J, Lemma F, Rskay G & Sillero-Zubiri C (September 2012) Citizen science: Ethiopian wolf ambassadors monitor threatened carnivore populations. Biodiversity Technologies – Biodiversity Institute Symposium, University of Oxford.
- Contingencies offer opportunities as well as challenges. The rabies outbreak was an emergency that demanded nearly all of the EWCP team’s time and attention, and lasted longer than expected. Though this took time away from other organizational goals, it also offered the strongest test yet of the tablets and app, and helped identify specific ways to improve the utility and reliability of the technology.
- Internet access can be unreliable in remote areas, posing challenges for data sharing. The team developed a work-around to temporarily store data locally, and anticipates moving to cloud storage in the near future.
- Fine-tuning the app and integrating the database took longer than expected. The upside is that in the process everyone provided feedback to improve the data collected and agreed on best practices.
- The participatory process helped build up a sense of ownership that it is bound to reflect in high quality data and those engaged were excited with the electronic device and felt proud of their work.
- The time needed for the next step, which is perfecting the database and online interface, was also underestimated, partially because the long-term nature of this project and the related issues of data compatibility. The lesson for the project team is: be persistent, do improve your protocols, but maintain your basic variables and codes!
Notes from JRS
The JRS Biodiversity Foundation is unique among private foundations for our focus on information and access to biodiversity data. Our grant to EWCP is an example of grants where JRS is supporting the software and hardware infrastructure to help a scientific and conservation effort to move data to a shared data platform. Technologies for field collection of data continue to advance at a rapid pace for conservation professionals as well as citizen science and this grant is one of several JRS grants advancing hand-held field information technology (see also ElephantVoices and CyberTracker). The project concluded in early 2015, having met all of its major objectives. Mobile technologies are now fully integrated into how EWCP monitors wolves, plans fieldwork and programs, and interacts with key stakeholders. There were delays in the project due to the demands upon the field team to deal with immediate crises on-the-ground. Perhaps there is a lesson for JRS to ensure there are adequate funds for dedicated IT development personnel when a field-based organization takes on the development of new technology. The project also presents a challenge and lesson for JRS regarding the transfer of know-how and technology. EWCP’s technical solution may be applicable to other mammal monitoring programs but the grant contained no mechanism for publicity and technology transfer. Future JRS grants will be designed to promote such transfer.