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.
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.
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
Keeping track of the thousands of animals, plant species and birds that inhabit South Africa's Kruger National Park is no simple task, but thanks to a GPS device, the job has become a lot easier. Home to the big five -- the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino -- the park is one of the biggest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and is the biggest in South Africa.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has recently embarked on the implementation of Cybertracker within its high risk protected areas. This is as a result of a very successful implementation programme within the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park and system developments in consultation with South African National Parks. In January 2011, members of the Cybertracker Project Team concluded the implementation of the Ezemvelo Cybertracker Test Sequence within the Masinda and Mbhuzane Sections of the Hluhluwe - Imfolozi Park in Northern KwaZulu – Natal
During his first full-throttle "persistence hunt," the South African biologist Louis Liebenberg was working with bushmen in the Kalahari Desert in the early 1990s. Armed with handmade bows and arrows, the hunters had been stalking kudu—a nimble antelope, slightly smaller than an elk. When a young stag split off from the herd, the bushmen ran flat-out after it.
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?
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.
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.
Louis Liebenberg, a scientist turned tracker, has begun to revolutionise conservation and wildlife management techniques with the aid of a unique hand-held computer. The device is enabling Southern Africa's Bushmen to preserve their tracking skills and turn their unrivalled knowledge of nature's biodiversity into a tool for conservation.
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.