Choose Language Hide Translation Bar
Celebrating JMP Champions: Sky Alibhai and Zoe Jewell, WildTrack
Sky Alibhai, Wildlife Biologist, Director and co-founder of WildTrack
Zoe Jewell, Veterinarian, President and co-founder of WildTrack
JMP Users since 1996


Sky Alibhai and Zoe Jewell have used JMP for decades in their work to monitor and help save endangered species.Sky Alibhai and Zoe Jewell have used JMP for decades in their work to monitor and help save endangered species.

How long have you been JMP users?

We started with version 3. Back then we were two young (ish) conservation biologists living in a remote part of Zimbabwe on the Botswana border. We lived in Hwange National Park, monitoring black rhino for the Zimbabwean government. We went out each day collecting data on rhino whereabouts, noting their behavior and collecting many other ecological data.

Our old statistical software had expired, and we were looking for something that had better visualization capabilities. We used to subscribe to MacUser magazine, which we had to collect from the nearest post office an hour away on a terrible dirt road. One week, there was a feature about statistical software. JMP got an excellent review, and we decided to try it.

What was your first job (ever)?

Zoe: Picking potatoes for a farmer in West Cornwall. A group of school kids used to car pool out to the farm during the holidays, equipped with wellington boots and a packed lunch. We followed the plough all day up and down the furrows, loading potatoes into big paper bags. We were paid by the bag, and so if one worked hard, it paid quite well. We’d emerge at the end of the day literally covered in mud and dust, clutching our hard-earned cash and heading for the beach to wash off!

Sky: Working in the family business selling secondhand clothes when I was 10 in Kampala, Uganda, where I was brought up. Times were hard with six kids in our family – everybody had to pitch in. My first paid job was when I was still in high school. I got a Saturday job in a tiny private school in Kampala teaching other high school students (mostly from even more deprived backgrounds).

What is your favorite feature in JMP?

Of course, we are inclined to say our Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) add-in! In many ways, FIT embodies many of the elements of JMP that make it such unique and user-friendly software. Using JSL in JMP, we are able to import and manipulate images, do feature extraction and then use several of the platforms (Fit Y by X, Fit Model, Discriminant, Cluster etc.) to do the analytics for FIT. Another favourite feature is JMP’s excellent quantitative mapping, such as the alpha hull approach for mapping animal distributions and density contour mapping, with the ability to overlay these on background topological maps.

How did you get interested in the type of work you do?

Zoe: One cold winter day in England, where I grew up, I remember being taken to visit my grandfather, a Ukrainian Jewish refugee whose family fled to England in the 1920s. He had a thriving furrier business in London’s Bond Street. I was about 5 and only knew that he made fur coats for rich people. He lifted me up and sat me on a huge pile of soft skins in his workshop, and as I felt the soft beautiful fur move through my fingers, I asked him where they had come from. He said the pile I was sitting on came from an animal called a snow leopard, and that he went to remote parts of Siberia each year to buy the skins from trappers. Slowly the penny sank in – these wonderful animals were being killed in huge numbers for their fur. That made a huge impression on me.

Sky: When I was 6-8 years old, TV was first introduced to Uganda. My family didn’t have a TV so I remember going to a friend’s house to watch after school. There was a BBC program called Zoo Quest fronted by a very young and sprightly David Attenborough. One of the episodes showed the Komodo dragon, I was totally captivated and blown away by the notion that these "dragons" were actually alive and kicking on this remote island in this present day and age! It wasn’t one of those moments of epiphany but much more subliminal – it stayed with me. Then in my second year at the one and only University in Uganda, I was fortunate enough to be able to help with a research project on the famous tree-climbing lions in, what was then, the Queen Elizabeth National Park. I just knew it! I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. So now I have been able to follow my passion. And, I am glad to say that David Attenborough, some 60 years on, is still at it, albeit a trifle slower, making some of the most dramatic and captivating wildlife documentaries and without doubt continuing to inspire young kids all over the world. 3color.png

What is your proudest professional moment?

Zoe & Sky: Getting our paper on the effects of immobilization in female black rhino published in The Journal of Zoology.  Our unexpected finding, that anesthetizing the females caused them to abort, was driven by 10 years of data, collected by walking for 30 km each day in often dangerous conditions. The pieces of the data puzzle came together in JMP, and our finding was the foundation of what we've done since then, developing and implementing alternative and sustainable techniques for protecting wildlife. This was momentous for us in many ways, not least, the fact that we had a lot of pushback (and threats!) from the section of the scientific community who had a vested interest in continuing with the use of invasive tagging techniques.

Sky: I am inclined to mention also the moment that I found out that I had been accepted to read for a doctorate at Oxford University with a full scholarship. It was a milestone, more for contextual reasons than anything else. There I was, from a very humble background, brought up in an outpost like Uganda, then attending the only university as an undergraduate in that tiny obscure country and this way back in 1971. To add to that, I had never been outside East Africa and never been on a plane before!

What do you like most about the work you do?

Apart from the obvious satisfaction of knowing that we are moving wildlife conservation towards sustainable and animal-friendly techniques, we love two other aspects of this work: First, the multidisciplinary engagement. Of course, we work with other conservation biologists across a wide spectrum of species and academic institutions. We also collaborate closely with statisticians, software developers, engineers, forensic scientists, agriculturalists, aeronautics companies, writers, artists, law-makers, the military and many others. Having conversations across these disciplines generates so many new ideas and perspectives.

Secondly, we love the global reach that WildTrack brings. We have projects in more than 20 countries over five continents, and each area brings different socio-political challenges that directly impacts how we collaborate, and requires considerable flexibility. A conservation policy in India, for example, might be hugely different from China. Imagine the challenge of dealing with human-wildlife conflict between tigers and villagers. A solution in India might require many layers of complex bureaucracy and consultations with stakeholders to reduce human-tiger interactions. In China, where local and central government can act quickly, whole areas can be cleared of human settlements and set aside for wildlife in a very short time. Both systems have their challenges and opportunities, and that makes for very interesting work.

Is there anything you would like to say to JMP development or John Sall?

We've been so fortunate to be part of the JMP family for almost 24 years now, working both remotely from various field sites, and on campus. John Sall wrote our first JMP script allowing us to import images into JMP. Since then, JMP developers have made significant contributions to the power of the FIT add-in.

Not only has JMP provided us with wonderful technical and logistical support for our wildlife conservation work, but we’ve always felt that our friends at JMP have supported us personally in what we do. They are with us through all our ups and downs, challenges and successes. JMP is truly a powerful and flexible community, and we are grateful to John Sall for creating the unique workspace ethos that powers JMP innovation and discovery.

How do you see the field of data science progressing in the next 20-50 years?

As data streams from almost every discipline in ever-increasing quantities, the ability to manage it will be central. While we believe that artificial intelligence will be able to deal with many routine time-consuming challenges, we think that the interface between AI and human skills will be the focus of the most interesting development.

In our field, wildlife conservation data must inform policy, but that policy must be a part of a human-centered community-based strategy. Far from robbing humans of jobs, more sophisticated data-driven science, such as AI, could allow humanity and other species to co-exist in a stable global ecosystem.

What advice would you give a beginning JMP user?

Take the time to play with JMP without necessarily having an objective in mind – because that’s the process of discovery! But above all, get to grips with understanding the elements of statistics. All too often the erroneous use of analytical methods can lead to misleading conclusions. The old adage "Lies, damn lies and statistics" is as relevant today as it ever was!

What is a fun or unusual fact about yourself?

Zoe: I have a really hard time recognizing faces! I learned to recognize people by their hairstyles, or gaits, and often voices, but rarely faces. I am the worst person to watch a movie with (‘Who’s that?" repeatedly’). Animals, on the other hand, provided a much easier pattern-template which includes their footprints.

Sky: I have a unique and somewhat dubious distinction of having had my B.Sc. degree in Uganda conferred upon me by none other than the self-styled murderous dictator Idi Amin! The year was 1971, and he had just installed himself as the new President of Uganda in a bloodless coup. However, laid down in the constitution was the requirement that the President of the country also act as the Chancellor of Makerere University (the only university in Uganda). So there was Idi Amin adorned in academic regalia seated on a dais dishing out the gongs to all the graduates – this from a man who was a complete illiterate and later went on to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes in that beautiful, friendly and peaceful country.

Zoe & Sky: We can't say it wasn’t for love, but we got married at the direction of the Zimbabwean government! Their permit office demanded a marriage certificate for our research permit renewal, and we didn't have one, so the deal was done! We flew back to the UK and booked the registry office in Cambridge. On a very cold December day, we were married to the irrepressible tones of The Bear Necessities from The Jungle Book movie. We forget the date every year but are faithfully reminded by our witnesses!