Aerial mark?recapture estimates of wild horses using natural markings

Aerial mark?recapture population estimates utilising the natural markings of wild horses to identify individuals was applied in the Bogong High Plains, Alpine National Park, Victoria. A discrete population of wild horses occupying an area of 180 km2 was sampled over two days in 2005. This study explored the feasibility of a technique that aimed to enable managers to estimate the size of the horse population and monitor it over time. Four observers (including the pilot) searched for horses from a helicopter. Once horses were sighted, photographic and written observations were used to ?mark? each animal. The survey was repeated the following day with observations ?recapturing? individuals. Data were analysed using several mark?recapture estimators, and the derived population estimates ranged from 89 (±5.3, s.e.) horses to 94.7 (±7.9, s.e.) horses. We found that the method gave a level of precision relevant to management, but needs refinement. The technique and its assumptions should be tested further by increasing the number of samples and video should be used to improve identification of individuals. We believe that this is a novel application for aerial surveys, which are typically unsuitable for estimating the size of small populations. This technique was developed for horses but may be used on other conspicuous species with unique natural markings.

Author Michelle J. Dawson and Cameron Miller
Date 27/06/2008
Year 2008
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 35
Number 4
Pages 365-370
Notes Notes
ISBN/ISSN DOI: 10.1071/WR07075
Region VIC