Technology is allowing anyone to contribute to scientific research, with implications for conservation, disease prevention and much more.
The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa have resulted in huge cost in human lives and economic losses. Even the indirect economic impact on Africa as a whole has been huge as tourists have cancelled visits to Africa due to the fear of Ebola. In future it may be more cost-effective to monitor signs of potential outbreaks of Ebola among wildlife, especially along trade routes that may spread Ebola to highly populated areas.
The BBC reports that Bill Gates says “surveillance systems” are needed to spot the signs of a disease outbreak earlier and prevent crises like the Ebola situation in West Africa. See BBC Report here.
A cost-effective solution may include forest patrols especially along trade routes that could introduce Ebola via bush meat to high population areas. As indicated by the attached images, Ebola may be introduced to humans via the consumption of Duiker and Bush Pig. Using CyberTracker to monitor the tracks & signs of Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Duiker and Bush Pig may indicate potential outbreaks of Ebola even before it infects human populations.
Data collected from 2000 to 2003 by trackers working for the ECOFAC programme and using the CyberTracker have showed up the extent of the Lowland Gorilla mortality due to Ebola in the Lossi Sanctuary, Republic of Congo.
Wild animal outbreaks began before each of the 5 human Ebola outbreaks. Twice we alerted the health authorities to an imminent risk for human outbreaks, weeks before they occurred.
This information has been confirmed by the Spanish primatologist, Dr Magdalena Bermejo, who has studied the gorillas in Lossi for ten years, and by the veterinaries of the International Medical Research Center of Franceville (CIRMF).
All the eight families (139 individuals) followed by Dr Bermejo since 1994 have now disappeared from the study area (40 km2). Two of these families were habituated to human presence. This habituation was not only a first with lowland gorillas but also was a first sight tourism experience in association with villages.
The CIRMF veterinaries have been able to collect a lot of samples and to confirm the presence of the virus in Chimpanzees and Gorillas. And, carcasses from other species have been found in the same area. Abundance indications collected on other species by the trackers, such as Duiker and Bush Pig, (see table) indicates that these species were also infected by Ebola.
Ebola, like other emerging diseases, remains a critical area of study to be explored not only to understand large primate dynamics and for their conservation, but for its potential impact on humans.
The European Commission Habitats Directive requires that changes in the conservation status of designated species are monitored. Nocturnal and elusive species are difficult to count directly and thus population trajectories are inferred by variation in the incidence of field signs.
The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), listed by the IUCN as ‘near threatened’, is monitored throughout Europe using the ‘Standard Otter Survey’ method. The report explores the reliability of this approach by analysing species incidence throughout Ireland.
Surveillance of wild animal populations is notoriously problematic due to the difficulty in detecting individuals directly and the associated costs of surveying remote areas or rough terrain. For nocturnal and elusive species, researchers frequently sacrifice quantifying abundance and concentrate on determining patch occupancy. Consequently, indirect survey methods that record species presence using tracks, faeces or scent markings have become standard protocol for many species. These have comparatively low costs and, therefore, are widely used not only for assessing distribution and abundance but also in studies of habitat selection, behaviour and diet. However, binary presence/absence data are vulnerable to both Type I (false positive), and more significantly, Type II (false negative) errors.
False positives occur when the target species is recorded erroneously, for example by the misidentification of scats or where transient individuals are detected but are not resident whilst false negatives occur when the target species goes undetected at a site at which it occurs due to the apparent absence of field signs. Such errors can result in highly biased estimates of site occupancy, population size and habitat use. False positives can be avoided by surveyor training and testing as provided by the CyberTracker Certification used in the USA to quantify the skills of field observers (see http://trackercertification.com) or by independent verification, for example, DNA testing faeces to confirm the target species identity.
Quantifying the skills of observers working on wildlife surveys to be used as an explanatory variable in data analysis would be helpful. Thus, it is essential to accurately record the identity of surveyors and estimate their reliability during pre-survey training. For otter surveys throughout Europe, it may be beneficial to develop a similar programme to that offered by the CyberTracker Certification in the USA to provide an objective test of an observer’s reliability (see http://trackercertification.com).
Giuseppe Levi, Bologna University, Bologna, Italy
Evelyn Foschi, Bologna, Italy
Bo Höistad, Roland Pettersson and Lars Tegnér, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
Hanno Essén, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
“In summary, the performance of the E-Cat reactor is remarkable. We have a device giving heat energy compatible with nuclear transformations, but it operates at low energy and gives neither nuclear radioactive waste nor emits radiation. From basic general knowledge in nuclear physics this should not be possible. Nevertheless we have to relate to the fact that the experimental results from our test show heat production beyond chemical burning, and that the E-Cat fuel undergoes nuclear transformations. The E-Cat invention has a large potential to become an important energy source.”
See Report at:
For background, see:
by Alexa Schoof Marketos
Louis Liebenberg’s revolutionary CyberTracker, a method of GPS-supported field data collection that replicates the ancient art of tracking, is now available as an Android-compatible version for use on many tablets and smartphones.This major step forward in the CyberTracker project is likely to bring about a quantum leap in the number of users worldwide for a multitude of purposes.
In the 1990s, Louis Liebenberg’s intention was simply to revive the dying art of tracking. This has taken the South African scientist and tracking expert much further than he had anticipated, leading him to implement a multi-pronged, constantly evolving approach, harnessing technology, community engagement and academic research to safeguard this ancient skill.
Working with software developer Justin Steventon, Liebenberg’s original solution was to develop a state-of-the-art conservation tool, CyberTracker, for which he won a Rolex Award in 1998.This software can be loaded on most hand-held computers, but its innovation and effectiveness lie in the use of stylized images, rather than words, for data capturing: an easily customized menu of icons can be adapted to any user requirement and a simple tap on the relevant icon records the observation and its exact geographic location.
Liebenberg is continually refining and upgrading CyberTracker, and, in early 2013, he released an Android-compatible version. “This means the application can now be used on tablets or smartphones,” explains Liebenberg. “My next upgrade will, I hope, enable CyberTracker for the iPhone, but software development is expensive, and obtaining funding is difficult. My work and my passion are in the field, but to raise funds I need to be in the city. It is a dilemma.”
CyberTracker is available free online and, to date, there have been more than 70,000 downloads in 210 countries (compared with about 30,000 in 75 countries up until 2008). “Distributing CyberTracker as freeware has allowed numerous independent initiatives to get off the ground, which I hope will result in the unrestricted growth of environmental monitoring projects worldwide,” says Liebenberg.
Research in South Africa’s game reserves has been boosted by CyberTracker, as Welgevonden Private Game Reserve’s Nungubane Game Lodge general manager Richard Blackshaw relates: “The reserve researchers use CyberTracker and they always comment on how fantastic it is to use in the field, that it has made their jobs so much easier. For our rangers, it helps as we can now identify and log specific animals at specific locations, significantly improving our ability to locate rare species on our game drives.”
CyberTracker is extremely versatile. It is being used for scientific research, citizen science, education, farming, social and health surveys, crime prevention and disaster relief. “A project in eastern Indonesia used the software to identify gaps in health services and to enable more effective and equitable delivery of scarce health resources to remote regions,” explains Liebenberg.
“In South Africa the software is being used to help reduce rhino poaching: CyberTracker can track individual rhinos by identifying the distinctive pattern of cracks in their hoofs. By tracking their movements, we can know where rhinos drink and sleep, and scarce anti-poaching units can be moved to those areas where rhinos are most vulnerable. As every person has an individual mannerism in the way he or she walks, leaving a ‘signature’ in his or her spoor, expert trackers can also track the poachers themselves.”
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of expert trackers. South Africa has only three Master Trackers (the highest grading a tracker can achieve) and Botswana four. According to Liebenberg, it will take at least another 10 to 20 years before a strong core of Master Trackers can be trained.
In 2012, Liebenberg established the Tracker Institute within the Thornybush Game Reserve in the greater Kruger National Park, South Africa, to mentor and train trackers. He is currently mentoring 12 potential Senior Trackers, including three women, and three potential Master Trackers. “Tracking needs to be recognized as a specialized profession because as long as trackers are held in low esteem, young people will have no motivation to qualify themselves as trackers,” Liebenberg explains. “My aim is to mentor the next generation of Master Trackers, and having female Senior Trackers on board will greatly help to break down the stereotypes and attract a broader field of trackers.”
To further enhance the status of tracking, Liebenberg has published a book (his fifth) entitled The Origin of Science: On the Evolutionary Roots of Science and its Implications for Self-Education and Citizen Science. Available as a free, downloadable PDF on cybertracker.org, the book addresses how the human mind evolved the cognitive ability for scientific reasoning, which Liebenberg believes is an innate ability in all humans.
He theorizes that the ability of early humans to track animals reflected and developed this evolutionary path. The book has received favourable reviews: Steven Pinker, Harvard University professor of psychology and leading author, says: “His data are precious, his stories gripping and his theory is a major insight into the nature and origins of scientific thinking, and thus of what makes us unique as a species.”
Liebenberg was prompted to write the book to open the world of science to ordinary people, people whom he believes have been discouraged from participating in science because of its increasingly professionalized nature. “If I can encourage even a small number of young, innovative people to follow their passion for science, the impact on science could be significant. Moreover, the implications for community participation in science are far-reaching. Imagine communities throughout the world gathering data…citizens gathering data on birds, animals, plants…millions of people all over the world, having their data on the Internet, creating a worldwide network to monitor the global ecosystems in real time.”
With CyberTracker as the tool behind the science, Liebenberg is making a significant and practical contribution to sustaining our environment.
UNEP Global Environmental Alert Services
Photo: CyberTracker workshop organised by the African Wildlife Foundation
The illegal trade of animals – for luxury goods, traditional medicine or cultural ceremonies, pets, entertainment, and even research – is a major threat to wildlife conservation and welfare (Baker et al., 2013). Poachers and illegal traders use highly sophisticated and rapidly changing techniques to avoid detection. To keep pace with the “war on wildlife”, conservation and law enforcement communities have started to adopt cutting-edge military tools and techniques. High-tech equipment can magnify counter-poaching efforts without requiring armies of rangers or risking lives. Tools include acoustic traps, mobile technology, mikrokopters, radio frequency identification tags, encrypted data digital networks, camera traps, DNA testing, radio collars, metal scanners, and satellite imagery.
To celebrate 20 years of CyberTracker Tracker Evaluations, initiated in 1994, we organised a CyberTracker meeting where evaluators were able to engage in critical discussion and peer review. Peer review is essential to maintain standards, especially as the network of CyberTracker evaluators continue to grow. Only by testing each other and engaging in critical discussion of evaluation principles, protocols and the interpretation of tracks & signs in the field is it possible to ensure that we all maintain the same standards.
We also discussed the creation of The Tracker Association, which will be based in South Africa, but will be open to all trackers worldwide. In addition to qualified trackers, who will be full members, we will also welcome any tracker who is working towards becoming a qualified tracker. While CyberTracker Conservation is a Public Benefit Organisation whose mission includes maintaining tracker standards through tracker certificates, CyberTracker is not a membership-based organisation. We therefore need a membership-based Tracker Association which can represent and promote the interests of trackers.
It was also great to simply have everyone together around a camp fire, relaxing and telling stories. Shani Preller suggested that the Tracker Association logo should be a camp fire, representing the tracker community. The art of tracking and the making of fire are perhaps the most ancient human traditions.
We are planning to make this an annual event, something that will help to strengthen and grow CyberTracker evaluations into the future.
The CyberTracker meeting was attended by Wilson Masia, Juan Pinto, Adriaan Louw, Lucas Mathonsi, Alan Yeowart, Lee Gutteridge, Mark Stavrakis, Taryn Ingram-Gillson, Shani Preller, Deirdre Opie, Kersey Lawrence, James Steyn and Louis Liebenberg.