Locus in Focus: the story of a scientist on navigation in nature


What do you do if you are a scientist doing fieldwork in the forests far from the routes you can find on Google Maps? On a calm and cold evening in the central area of ​​Corbett National Park, our vehicle jerking off an unknown path, I was nervous and tense when our driver said: “Sir ji! lagta hai galat rasta pakad liya humne ..!“He said he thought we were on the wrong road and I had a camera trap to retrieve, so those words from my driver were the last thing I expected to hear.

As Sonu struggled to find the right path, I tried to put together all the details I could collect, hoping to find the way. After nearly 20 minutes of futile driving and brain-draining, I remembered that I had mapped the entire route to the camera traps deployed in Locus Map, a popular GPS mapping app that many researchers use for situations like this. It took us another 15 minutes to detour and finally reach the desired location. I removed the camera trap and got back into the vehicle. Browsing through the photos, I couldn’t decide what brought me the most relief and happiness at the time, the beautifully captured images of tigers in the camera, or the Locus map in my still wide open phone. on my screen.

As researchers, we commonly use this app to mark important locations like camera trap deployments, animal den sites, a river spring, or more generally a remote village site. I came across this app two years ago while working on Indian Gray Wolf Ecology as a Project Associate with Tiger Watch. My goal was to assess the habitat use of the Indian Gray Wolf inside the Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS). I used a software called ArcGIS to lay out grids of 4 x 4 km2 each over the entire study area spanning 684 km2, but portable GPS did not allow all the grids to be visible at the same time . A fellow researcher, a field biologist working in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve came to my rescue,

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Locus Map interface
Photo credit: Screenshots of Prashant Mahajan

Suno, tum Locus Map download karo. Ye baaki jhanjhat mein mat pado. »(Just download Locus Map). “He’s using a phone’s GPS to detect his current location. It has a huge repository of maps from all over the world, and the best part is that it works even without an internet connection. You install it and see for yourself, ”he says.

In no time I was well acquainted with the application. I imported my grid file into the app, and they were there, all 48 grids visible at the same time, just as I wanted. Although looking at 48 grids together now seemed easy, going through each of them to collect data on the direct and indirect signs of the wolf, while also recording the total trail traveled, marking the important places on the path seemed like a daunting task. So I approached wildlife volunteers from KWS villages working with Tiger Watch. I passed on my new knowledge of Locus Map to the volunteers and trained them in its correct use without confusing them. I have marked some locations as landmarks to make it easier for them to locate the starting point of the grid.

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At the rate of 5 grids per day, traveling 10 to 12 km in each grid, we were able to cover all the grids in the next ten days. The data was stored securely in the app and gave amazing results. We were able to document and mark signs of wolves, hyenas, foxes, chinkara, nilgai, golden jackals, hares, bears, leopards and even some tiger signs.

Trekking in remote forests for collecting data on animal locations can be quite difficult and I often struggled to remember the route taken after several miles of walking. At times like these, technologies like GPS, Locus Map etc. provide much-needed help, although conventional portable GPS navigation devices are not very user-friendly and do not provide full maps unlike the latter which allows you to “ know ” the terrain ahead, what the route looks like , its length, its altitude profile, etc. Every now and then I click on images while using it and easily geotag them for future reference.

Prashant locus tusker elephant

A male tusker in Corbett National Park
Photo credit: Prashant Mahajan

To limit the relevance of Locus Map in the world of wildlife research would be a crime on my part, as I have actively used it during recreational hikes and trekking. On one of these occasions, I recommended it to a friend of mine. The usability of the app has made it a favorite with it. For someone who doesn’t remember directions well, a little knowledge of vital technologies like these hasn’t hurt.

A life without technology in today’s world would perhaps be unimaginable. But letting it take control of our lives may not be the wisest option, especially when exploring forests. Once while collecting elephant dung data, I had my eyes glued to the mobile screen to continuously record data and forgot for a while that I was in a forest. While walking along the transect line, I suddenly encountered a herd of elephants passing through the transect. Anyone who has known a herd of beasts chasing them through an unfamiliar forest wouldn’t be shy to throw their phone away for their life!

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Prashant Mahajan holds an MA in Wildlife Science from Aligarh Muslim University, in addition to a zoology degree from Delhi University and a writer. He worked on wolf ecology in Rajasthan and was part of the research team of the “All India Tiger Monitoring” project with the Wildlife Institute of India. He is currently a project manager at the Wildlife Institute of India.

Juno Negi is a researcher and blogger who completed her post-graduate degree in Anthropology with a BA in Zoology, from the University of Delhi. Currently working as a junior researcher at the Wildlife Institute of India.

This series is an initiative of the Foundation for Nature Conservation, as part of its Nature Communication program to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. If you would like to write about nature and birds, please fill out this form.

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