Why We Need Tracker Certification
Trackers can play an important role in education, ecotourism, search & rescue, anti-poaching, crime prevention, wildlife monitoring, and scientific research in nature reserves, national parks and protected areas.
Creating employment opportunities for trackers provides cultural, social and economic benefits to local communities. The employment of trackers will also help to retain traditional skills that may otherwise be lost in the near future.
The CyberTracker certification system has proved to be a very efficient training tool.
In national parks and in the ecotourism industry there has been an increasing need to verify the abilities of rangers and trackers. Rangers are used to gather data for monitoring wildlife and it is important to validate that the data they gather is accurate. Expert trackers can give valuable assistance to researchers studying animal behavior. The employment of trackers in scientific research requires the highest level of tracking expertise. Tracker certificates will help to validate data collected by trackers by providing an objective test of observer reliability.
The art of tracking should therefore be recognized as a specialized profession.
In order to develop the art of tracking as a modern profession very high standards of certification need to be maintained. Trackers are graded in order to determine their level of expertise, so that they can be promoted according to different salary scales. This provides an incentive for trackers to develop their skills and strive towards the highest levels of excellence.
A New Perspective
The CyberTracker Tracker Certification was initiated by Louis Liebenberg in 1994 in the Thornybush Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park.
Initially our aim was to establish a strong core of expert trackers, maintaining the highest standards. Over the years we have resisted pressure to lower our standards for the sake of getting more trackers certified. To lower standards at the start of this process would have jeopardised our core standards and would have made it difficult to maintain high standards within a broader context of inconsistent standards.
During the first 20 years we were able to focus on maintaining the highest standards, since there was no sense of urgency. Issues like climate change and population growth seemed very remote into the future. However, it is now becoming increasingly clear that climate change, population growth and the rapid loss of biodiversity are becoming increasingly urgent.
The world is experiencing a period of rapid environmental change linked to habitat change, pollution, and climate change. Monitoring biodiversity is critical for effective conservation management. There are too few professional ecologists to deal with the scale of environmental challenges. Furthermore, global biodiversity conservation is seriously challenged by gaps in the geographical coverage of existing information. Locally based monitoring is particularly important in developing countries, where it can empower local communities to manage their natural resources. Trackers can play a critical role in preventing poaching of endangered species such as rhino, elephant and tigers. Trackers can also be of great value for monitoring rare and endangered species.
Rhino and elephant poaching in Africa are out of control. Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, pangolins and a number of other species may well be driven into extinction. In Africa and Asia there is a critical shortage of trackers who can be employed in anti-poaching units. Protected areas may need more than one tracker per 2000 hectares (20 square kilometres) to bring poaching under control.
To monitor global changes in biodiversity and to bring poaching under control we may need hundreds of thousands of trackers worldwide.
Over the last thirty years traditional tracking skills in southern Africa have been lost at an alarming rate. About 90% of the Kalahari Bushmen Master Trackers have passed away, their knowledge and skills irretrievably lost. Meanwhile, the younger generation had no incentive to become expert trackers. Among hunter-gathers, the bow-and-arrow and persistence hunting have been abandoned as the use of dogs and horses were introduced. This has resulted in a decline in tracking skills.
At a time when traditional tracking skills are being lost we may require many thousands of certified trackers to monitor changes in the environment due to climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.
We need to re-assess our priorities for tracker certification and look at how we can accelerate the growth in the number of qualified trackers, but without compromising our standards. Over the last 20 years we have issued about 5000 certificates worldwide. To scale up from less than 5000 qualified trackers over the first 20 years to more than 100 000 trackers in the next 20 years, we need to introduce a learning process that will result in a rapid increase in the number of qualified trackers.
We now have a strong core of Senior Trackers and Evaluators, which allow us to now introduce new levels of certificates that will stimulate interest in tracking without compromising standards.
Our "gold standard" certificates are the Professional Tracker, Senior Tracker and Master Tracker. These are the certificates that should maintain a consistent and exceptionally high standard in order to develop tracking into a modern profession.
In order to stimulate the growth of the tracker community, we need to introduce new tracker certificates where the emphasis will be on an informal learning process,
Tracker Certification and Observer Reliability
The CyberTracker Tracker Certification covers the fundamental principles of tracking as well as the finer details and sophisticated aspects of tracking. This is done on an individual basis, depending on the level of each candidate. The evaluation is in the form of a practical field test. Rather than pointing out details, each individual is first asked to give his or her own interpretation. Mistakes are corrected and explained continuously throughout the duration of the evaluation. This process identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in order to develop the potential of each individual in accordance to his or her level of skill.
The apprentice tracker is given a percentage obtained for the evaluation. The progress a tracker makes will depend to a large extent on his or her incentive to practice on an ongoing basis. Someone who is not able to develop his or her own skills will never become an expert tracker. The evaluation is therefore intended to teach trackers how to develop their own skills. The CyberTracker Tracker Certification system has also proved to be a very efficient training tool (Wharton, 2006).
Wildlife research often relies upon skilled observers to collect accurate field data (Wilson and Delahay, 2001). However, when the skill level of the observers is unknown, the accuracy of collected data is questionable (Anderson, 2001). Observer reliability is an important issue to address in wildlife research, yet it has often been overlooked or assumed to be high (Anderson, 2003). Measuring observer field skills enables managers to select the most qualified observers, thereby increasing confidence in collecting data (Evans, et al, 2009).
Survey methods involving identification of animal tracks are especially susceptible to observer errors (Wilson and Delahay, 2001). Although tracks and signs (including scat, hair, burrows and other indicators) can be the most efficient way to detect elusive animals (Beier and Cunningham, 1996), several factors (such as substrate quality, moisture level, age of track, animal movement) can cause tracks to be highly variable and difficult to identify. In surveys using tracks and sign, confidence in observer skills is of fundamental importance to the reliability of collecting data.
The standardized CyberTracker Tracker Certification procedure to asses the accuracy of observer reliability in counts of river otter tracks conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It was found that experienced observers misidentified 37% of otter tracks. In addition, 26% of tracks from species determined to be "otter-like" were misidentified as otter tracks (Evans et al, 2009). The educational utility of the CyberTracker Tracker Certification system was also demonstrated, showing substantial improvement in the scores of participants who attended the first evaluation (with an average score of 61%) and a second evaluation three months later (with an average score of 79%). This study demonstrated the necessity to reduce observer error in indirect sign surveys by adequately training and evaluating all field observers (Evans et al, 2009).
Many wildlife studies would benefit greatly from adopting standardized methods of evaluating skills of field biologists and data collectors. Methods such as the track and sign evaluation used in the study could be applied to a variety of research fields, both for testing validity of preexisting data and for quantitatively evaluating skills of field observers (Evans et al, 2009).
From its origins in the Kalahari, CyberTracker has now found its way into conservation projects worldwide. Most users simply use the CyberTracker software to record data. But the art of tracking also represents the most sophisticated and refined form of human observation. A fleeting glimpse of a small bird disappearing into a thick bush is closer to a sign of a bird than a clear sighting. A distant sighting of a whale in rough seas can be just as difficult to identify as an indistinct track. A dried out twig, with no flowers or green leaves, can make identification of a plant as difficult as identifying the faintest sign in the sand.
Whether looking at birds, butterflies, plants, whales, tracks or signs, human observations can be infinitely complex. The master trackers of the Kalahari can inspire the development of increasingly refined observation skills.
The objectives of the CyberTracker Tracker Certification include:
- Promoting the cultural, social and economic benefits of the art of tracking.
- Stimulating an interest in tracking among children, young people, adventure students and the general public.
- Develop tracking into a modern profession by maintaining the highest standards in tracker certification.
- Promoting the employment of trackers in education, ecotourism, conservation management, search & rescue, anti-poaching, wildlife monitoring and scientific research.
- The recognition of traditional knowledge, the pursuit of new knowledge and the highest levels of excellence in the art of tracking.
Registered Trade Marks
Professional Tracker, Senior Tracker and Master Tracker are registered Trade Marks of CyberTracker Conservation NPC and may not be used without permission.
CyberTracker Evaluation Standards Committee
Louis Liebenberg, the late Wilson Masia, Juan Pinto, Adriaan Louw and Mark Elbroch