Errors that occur when using photo-identification to identify individual black rhinos

Felix Patton, Martin Jones


Photo-identification of individuals has been successfully applied in sea mammals for over a decade but errors of judgement do occur. Photo-identification can also be used to identify or verify the identity of black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) from appropriate features, including the sex, age, horn size and shape, and ear markings. By developing and applying a series of tests, judgement errors that occur when reviewing identification photographs are determined and are reported. Results show that individual black rhinos can often be accurately identified from suitable photographs but even for the best of the judges, using photographs to identify individual rhinos is not completely reliable. There are four key factors which improved the accuracy and consistency of identification: the amount of identification information available, the quality of the photograph, the distinctness of the rhino and the aptitude of the judge for reviewing photographs. The distinctness of identification features is more important than the quality of the photographs. People vary widely in their ability to judge
identification photographs irrespective of their experience of working with rhinos. Where photographs are to be used to verify the identity of a rhino, the verifier must have shown the aptitude to undertake such analysis and/or should be practiced in the skill. Recommendations are made to reduce the impact of judgement errors when using photo-identification with black rhinos.


photographs; identification; black rhino

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