Customizing a rangefinder for community-based wildlife conservation initiatives
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Population size of many threatened and endangered species is relatively unknown because estimating animal abundance in remote parts of the world, without access to aircraft for surveying vast areas, is a scientific challenge with few proposed solutions. One option is to enlist local community members and train them in data collection for large line transect or point count surveys, but financial and sometimes technological constraints prevent access to the necessary equipment and training for accurately quantifying distance measurements. Such measurements are paramount for generating reliable estimates of animal density. This problem was overcome in a survey of Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus) in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, Mongolia, by converting an inexpensive optical sporting rangefinder into a species-specific rangefinder with visual-based categorical labels. Accuracy trials concluded 96.86% of 350 distance measures matched those from a laser rangefinder. This simple customized optic subsequently allowed for a large group of minimally-trained observers to simultaneously record quantitative measures of distance, despite language, education, and skill differences among the diverse group. The large community-based effort actively engaged local residents in species conservation by including them as the foundation for collecting scientific data.
KeywordsAbundance Asiatic wild ass Equus hemionus Khulan Density Distance sampling Line transect Mongolia Point count
Thanks to P. Kaczensky for input on the application of this tool for use in the Gobi, and to L. Ellison, R. Waltermire, and two anonymous reviewers for critical reviews of this research note. Development of this tool and its application for equid conservation was funded by a fellowship through Colorado State University’s Center for Collaborative Conservation. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the Colorado State University or the US Government.
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