Monitoring Wildlife

Soon after NRT was set up, it was clear that a simple, cost-effective system needed to be established to monitor changes in the abundance of wildlife in the conservancies. This led to the development of the Conservancy Management Monitoring System, or CoMMS. Ecological monitoring can be a highly complex process, requiring considerable scientific expertise and expense. In contrast, CoMMS requires little external scientific input, relying instead on the skills and knowledge of conservancy managers and their rangers.

The monitoring system, which is one of the first of its kind, was piloted in Sera in 2005. It is based on measuring the relative abundance of species, gauged not by their absolute numbers but on sightings by rangers. Initially, conservancies which adopted the system compiled a paper database. Once it became clear that the system was working well, rangers were provided with global positioning system (GPS) devices so that they could record the exact location of every sighting. They were then trained in computer skills and taught how to prepare abundance histograms and maps. CoMMS elephant data is now being used as part of the CITES Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, and goes to show that it doesn’t require teams of scientists to produce credible, reliable information. 

NRT has developed this comprehensive set of guides to support Wildlife-CoMMS training, implementation and practical day-to-day delivery; and to encourage self-sufficiency in fully operating and maintaining Wildlife-CoMMS in Community Conservancies in the long term.

These guides are the result of seven years of trialling and implementation of ranger-based monitoring in NRT community conservancies with over 300 rangers trained and gathering data in 17 conservancies.  Conservancy Managers, Wardens, Rangers and NRT's Research & Monitoring team of Mohamed Golicha, Sinyati Lesowapir and Dominic Lesimirdana have been instrumental in developing the system. The Wildlife-CoMMS database was developed by Fran Michelmore Root, editing of guides has been by Linzi Seivwright and design & illustration by Simon Fraser.


1. Planning:

  • 1.1 - Conservancies. To support Conservancy staff, this guide introduces the principles behind conservation and outlines the purpose and role of conservancies
    in helping communities.
  • 1.2 - Principles. This guide introduces the principle phases of Wildlife CoMMS and identifies the personnel and equipment required to implement it.
  • 1.3 - Setting up Wildlife CoMMS. To identify the key objectives for the ranger-based Wildlife-Conservancy Management Monitoring System (Wildlife-CoMMS) and determine the area over which monitoring will be carried out.
  • 1.4 - Setting up patrols. Setting up effective ranger patrols within a Conservancy is essential for the protection, management and monitoring of wildlife. Planning and implementing these patrols forms the subject of this guide.

2. Monitoring:

  • 2.1 - Wildlife observation. Selecting the key species to be monitored, collecting correct and accurate data, and completing the wildlife observations datasheet are all covered in this guide.
  • 2.2 - Carcasses. Effective investigation of the scene of a wildlife carcass to determine cause and means of death is an essential skill for a ranger. Correct procedures for
    recording and reporting incidents of wildlife mortality are vital.
  • 2.3 - Monitoring conflict. Collecting and completing data on human-wildlife conflict, and providing ideas on managing conflict situations are the subject of this guide.
  • 2.4 - Monitoing illegal activities. Collecting information on illegal incidents, insecurity, and destruction of the environment, is extremely important as provision of security for people and wildlife, and protection of the environment is a core purpose of the Conservancy.
  • 2.5 - Patrols. The importance of gathering data on patrol effort and filling out the Patrol Effort Datasheet is explained in this guide. Monitoring patrol effort is an essential part of good management and integral to Wildlife-CoMMS.

3. Data:

  • 3.1 - Managing data. Managing data well is critical to ensuring Wildlife-CoMMS runs smoothly and will generate useful information from the data collected. The role of key conservancy personnel in managing this data is outlined in this guide. 
  • 3.2 - The database. The aim of this guide is to provide a brief introduction to the Wildlife-CoMMS database. Detailed guidance accompanies the database.
  • 3.3 - Using the data. Producing reports from the data collected in the field, and providing feedback to staff, Boards and the community are critical to improving management of the Conservancy; this guide aims to help managers use the data from Wildlife-CoMMS.

4. Specialist guides:

  • 4.1 - GPS. The aim of this guide is to explain how you record locations accurately, mark and re-name waypoints and use co-ordinates given to you to find a location.
  • 4.2 - Spoor identification. The aim of this guide is to help identify some key predator species from their spoor (footprints).
  • 4.3 - Elephant carcasses. Investigating an elephant carcass to determine the cause and means of its death and outlining the recording and reporting procedures for mortality is the purpose of this guide.
  • 4.4 - Identifying disease. The aim of this guide is to provide practical guidance on signs and symptoms of common diseases affecting wildlife, particularly when investigating a carcass.
  • 4.5 - Gamebirds. The aim of this guide is to provide detailed guidance on carrying out gamebird counts for sandgrouse, using the data to estimate population sizes and trends and allocate shooting quotas.
  • 4.6 - Hirola. Gathering information on age and sex of individual hirola is the aim of this guide.  This data is useful in determining information such as calving seasons; survivorship of calves, juveniles and adults; and the sex ratio of hirola herds or populations.

Download the datasheets here.