The science of tracking--following the paths of animals in the wild--has been practiced since hunter-gatherers first appeared on the African savanna some 100,000 years ago. Interpreting nature's vocabulary of footprints and foliage, Stone Age hunters not only pursued their prey but also acquired a practical understanding of recurring patterns in animal behavior. But the tracker's knowledge was never written down. Even today, among the few remaining hunter-gatherer communities in Africa, Asia and Australia, the best trackers can neither read nor write. Instead, their skills are passed down through the generations by oral tradition. But as these dwindling, isolated communities face increasing social marginalization, their tribal cultures and means of survival are under threat. Now, a South African scientist is using advanced computer technology to revive the dying art of tracking.
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?
A run around the park or on a treadmill in the gym is the best most of us manage these days. We should do better really, given that our body shape - upright, with large buttocks - apparently evolved for running.
Wildlife tracking is making a comeback, attracting outdoor enthusiats and biologists alike. For some it's an engrossing hobby; for others it's a critical contribution to conservation. By Victoria Schlesinger.
A strange Australian mole has eluded scientific study for more than a century. Now biologists are teaming up with Aboriginal trackers to unearth the secrets of the itjaritjari... Benshemesh would also like to learn more about the extent of the itjaritjari's distribution. To this end he is training Aboriginal people in the use of CyberTracker, a device originally developed in South Africa for ecological studies assisted by Kalahari bushmen.
In the far reaches of the Kalahari Desert, in southern Africa, researcher Louis Liebenberg is deploying what may be the first illiterate computers integrated into a hunter-gatherer society, a group known as the San Bushmen. The desert natives, now thought to be the first people, are famous for their mysterious capacity to decipher animal tracks, or spoor, in the natural environment. The plethora of specific data that a Bushman can extract from even a partial spoor has astonished scientists for decades: This unusual ability is subtle and multispectral; it's steeped in an experience of nature that recognizes no division of life into distinct categories.
In 2003, trained trackers combing the rich jungles in the Republic of Congo's Lossi Sanctuary for gorillas and chimpanzees stumbled upon a disturbing trend. Duikers, dog-sized antelopes that weave and dive through the jungle's dense undergrowth, were dying at an astounding rate—local indices dropped 50 percent compared to a 2000 census. Gorillas and chimpanzees were dying at similar rates. Blood tests confirmed the culprit was the deadly virus Ebola. The surprise was that no one had previously known that Ebola killed antelopes.
Photo taken by Kabir Bakie at the Cincinnati Zoo May, 2005
Of the thousands of people who started software companies in the go-go 1990s, surely Louis Liebenberg followed the most tortuous path to the helm of a software start-up. For one thing, it went through the Kalahari bush. Liebenberg is the owner of CyberTracker Software Ltd., a four-person company in Cape Town, South Africa. CyberTracker's acclaimed program for Palm and Pocket PC handhelds simplifies and automates the task of monitoring the locations, populations, and movements of wildlife. Available free at https://www.cybertracker.org, the software has been a huge hit with wildlife officials, conservationists, zoologists, field biologists, animal trackers, and antipoaching officers. Nearly 2000 people per month have been downloading Version 3 of the software.
CyberTracker, the brainchild of 1998 Laureate Louis Liebenberg, is a handheld device originally developed to modernise the ancient skill of tracking. While it has proven highly successful for its original purpose, Liebenberg has discovered that its software has revolutionary potential to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change; CyberTracker technology can monitor, predict and help prevent irreversible damage to our ecosystems.
NORDHOEK, South Africa -- Sitting at his laptop computer, Louis Liebenberg compares two maps of the same area: While the first is plotted thickly with yellow dots, the yellow areas on the second map are far sparser.
These dots represent sightings of lowland gorillas recorded by trackers both before and after an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Lossi Sanctuary in the Republic of Congo. Using CyberTracker, a software program that allows conservationists to record their observations in the field on handheld computers linked to global positioning system, or GPS, units, the trackers were able to gather data that revealed in detail the decimation of the local gorilla population.