WHAT really goes on in Africa's remote national parks? Though satellite imaging and aerial surveys give a rough idea of changes in animal and plant life, the most detailed data still have to be collected on foot. This is all very well for those places where skilled botanists and zoologists swarm in the undergrowth, but what about everywhere else?
When Ebola fever struck Lossi sanctuary in eastern Congo two years ago, the zoologists who were studying the gorillas there noticed that 139 of their apes had disappeared, presumably killed by the disease. As an aside, they also recorded chimpanzees, antelopes, bush pigs and other species that were struck down, suggesting Ebola is more deadly than once thought. The toll elsewhere was unknown.
The useful extra data were collected only because the zoologists in question had a convenient system for doing so. They were testing the prototype of CyberTracker, an invention of Louis Liebenberg, a self-taught animal tracker who lives in Nordhoek, near Cape Town. CyberTracker is a hand-held device that lets users record what they see quickly and easily, and then plots maps showing exactly where the observations were made, using the Global Positioning Satellite navigation system.