The use of the CyberTracker as a tool for the management of protected wildlife and forest reserves in Central Africa

by Jean Marc Froment

Report on the experience at Odzala National Park


The management of large forest conservation areas in Africa is considerably handicapped by the dense vegetation, which significantly reduces visibility and renders progress on the ground very challenging. This reality makes all types of data collection in terms of temporal-spatial information, to evaluate the major trends in the environment, very challenging and fastidious. In addition, it is extremely difficult to evaluate the results of all the management activities in place especially those by the surveillance teams in the field.

Furthermore, protected habitats in Central Africa have few financial resources to protect themselves from poaching although this is predominantly only a short-term threat. The implementation of specialized unites for the ecological surveys, especially in forested regions, encompass a financial investment that protected wildlife habitats have difficulty to acquire or mobilize.

In light of these two major constraints, the management of Odzala National Park hopes to put in place a system of data collection, which would be accomplished by permanent surveillance teams. This system will allow in part, the acquisition of a clear picture of their efforts as well as a comprehension of temporal-spatial indicators (distribution and abundance of illegal activities, key species, etc).

The CyberTracker, a tools for data collection which are geo-referenced and icons based immediately integrated into a Geographic information System (GIS), was in structure the perfect basic tool that would permit teams to record their observations and the management to use this information to improve the surveillance of the teams and the greater problems of the Park.

The Development of the CyberTracker in Odzala National Park

The basic principle of this tool is, to record with the CyberTracker, the terrain covered and observations made by the patrol units and to transform these into patrol effort per surface area (kilometers of patrol coverage per km² within 100 km² quadrates) and into indices of abundance (number of encounters/ individual/ per kilometer of patrol in these within 100 km² quadrates).

The general methodological approach has therefore been:

  1. Define a series of key indicators, which need to be collected by the park guards that will allow a determination of management efforts (distribution and patrol effort) and the utilization (legal and illegal) of the forest concurrently with the abundance and distribution of certain species in the park.
  2. To put in place the mechanism that will allow the protect area management team to very rapidly use the information collected by the guards (patrol debriefing) but also allow special and temporal analysis in order to evaluate seasonal or annual trends and the evolution of the large conservation areas management problems (patrol effort distribution, poaching, abnormal mortalities, etc).
  3. To develop an eco-morphological map taking in to consideration the human environment (importance of villages, means of communication), vegetation, topography, hydrology and sites with particularities which would allow the special characterization of the area for a better interpretation of the data. This work is accomplished in conjunction with importance in terms of "le Centre Commun de Recherche d’Ispra , program TREES".
  4. To put in place a database easily queried in order to produce periodic reports on the actions of park management and the linked indicators as well as a historical archive of park management and health.

Current use of the CyberTracker

In the beginning, two keys for data collection were conceived, the first to follow of the work of the "ecoguards" in the forest and the second to conduct an annual socio-economic rapport.

The Cyber Patrol

The Tool

The data collection tree was designed to allow simultaneous data collection on the activities of the patrol units, the different terrains covered and the principal indicators of human and animal activity in the forest (Fig. 1).

The primary information acquired on the patrol teams includes: the Types of surveys conducted, the modes of transport, the itineraries, the duration and timing of various activities conducted during the patrol and the results of the aforementioned. This information is then used to evaluate the different effort of each patrol unit, analyze their coverage in time and space. This information makes available the work accomplished in the forest.

Data collected on the human activities corresponds to the primary types of forest exploitation by the villages in the periphery of the park and poaching activities (indices of fishing, gathering and hunting activity). The information of the fauna has as primary objective to define a relative periodic abundance of the main species encountered during the patrols (contact and spore) and as an evaluation of the changes in the populations, and an idea of the distribution of species considered rare.

Its use

Since November 2001, all the patrol units have been equipped with a Visor ® and Magellan ® GPS unit combination (15 units for the park). Based on previous evaluations with 5 operational units during a one and a half year period, 30% of the patrol teams lost their information prior to returning to the base station. Despite this inconvenience that is linked to a human component (training, and choice of individual selected for the data collection) the information that is acquire was immediately usable by the conservation officer in charge of park surveillance. During the debriefing session with the patrol teams (Fig. 2), they have precise map of the itinerary taken and the totality of the observations made, allowing for a precise evaluation of the work accomplished in addition to indicators of poaching activity and other potential serious problems in the park.

The simplicity of then exporting this data into other analytical formats (Arc View, and Excel) allows the park, with ease, to periodically analyze the distribution of patrol effort (Fig. 3) in relation to the abundance of different "problematics" (Fig.4). The CyberTracker is therefore an important aide in the development of a work plan as well as a tracking the different threats and their tendencies, and other parameters in the protected areas (Fig 5).

In addition, the "ecoguards" link all observations made to major vegetation categories. This data is used by "le Centre Commun de Recherche" of the European Union to interpret (confirmed field point) the satellite images and improve the eco-morphological map of the park (see the presentation of Pascale Janvier and Philippe Mayaux).

Its development

The objective of the development of the CyberTracker tool in the management of the Odzala National Park is to acquire a database on park management, on its level of understanding, as a "memoir" that is easily queried by those directly involved as well as the researchers and other who can contribute and use it as a valuable resource.

This work, requires the implementation of automatic analytical mechanisms for the thousands of data points collected by the "ecoguards" but also their integration into the Geographic information system (GIS) which is more complete and with a greater capacity in terms of analysis interpretation (Tropical Forest Information System). Pascale Janvier and Philippe Mayaux conduct this work at the "Centre Commun de Recherche" of the European Union based in Ispra, Italy. They are using the classic Arc View and Excel software.

The Socio-economic Cyber

The second data collection key was created to conduct an annual economic level and social survey in the villages surrounding the park. It was conceived to be conducted rapidly based on direct observations and simple and precise questions. It is based principally on habitat descriptions, development of public and communication infrastructures.

This information is to be used to ensure a tracking of the social-economic development surrounding the park, but also to construct an eco-morphological map of the region.

The new uses at Odzala

Several researchers have developed their own use of the CyberTracker.

  • The development of this tool in association with the habituation of gorillas to allow the trackers to collect objective data on the diet, movement of groups and different behaviors associated with gorilla interaction between humans and animals.
  • The development and implementation of this tool for the health monitoring of the great apes in the park. It is currently being used to follow the effects of the Ebola epidemic in the periphery of the park and in northern Gabon.
  • The development of this tool to help the interpretation of the Ikonos (Satellite images) and a detailed mapping/cartography of the vegetation at the research sites.