Category Archives: 4 The Art of Tracking

Animal Density and Track Counts: Understanding the Nature of Observations Based on Animal Movements

Derek Keeping and Rick Pelletier

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Abstract

Counting animals to estimate their population sizes is often essential for their management and conservation. Since practitioners frequently rely on indirect observations of animals, it is important to better understand the relationship between such indirect indices and animal abundance. The Formozov-Malyshev-Pereleshin (FMP) formula provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the relationship between animal track counts and the true density of species. Although this analytical method potentially has universal applicability wherever animals are readily detectable by their tracks, it has long been unique to Russia and remains widely underappreciated. In this paper, we provide a test of the FMP formula by isolating the influence of animal travel path tortuosity (i.e., convolutedness) on track counts. We employed simulations using virtual and empirical data, in addition to a field test comparing FMP estimates with independent estimates from line transect distance sampling. We verify that track counts (total intersections between animals and transects) are determined entirely by density and daily movement distances. Hence, the FMP estimator is theoretically robust against potential biases from specific shapes or patterns of animal movement paths if transects are randomly situated with respect to those movements (i.e., the transects do not influence animals’ movements). However, detectability (the detection probability of individual animals) is not determined simply by daily travel distance but also by tortuosity, so ensuring that all intersections with transects are counted regardless of the number of individual animals that made them becomes critical for an accurate density estimate. Additionally, although tortuosity has no bearing on mean track encounter rates, it does affect encounter rate variance and therefore estimate precision. We discuss how these fundamental principles made explicit by the FMP formula have widespread implications for methods of assessing animal abundance that rely on indirect observations.

Read full article here…

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The Value of Animal Tracking Skills

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By Janet Pesaturo

After generations of fading into obsolescence, wildlife tracking has grown in popularity in recent years. No doubt this is due to the work of evolutionary biologist, Louis Liebenberg. He recognized the value of animal tracking skills, and helped traditional African hunter-gatherers use them to earn a living in data collection for wildlife monitoring, research, and anti-poaching efforts.

Part of Liebenberg’s work involved development of the CyberTracker evaluation system, which became an international standard for tracking skills. This elevated the ancient art and science of tracking to a respected discipline within the modern world. But regardless of its status within the modern world, tracking is useful to almost anyone.

Tracking skills deepen your awareness and understanding of wildlife. And that can help you better protect pets, livestock and garden produce; develop competency in hunting; make more informed decisions that impact wildlife; and meet people from vastly different walks of life. Not to mention the fact that it’s great physical and mental exercise, all at once.

Read full article here…

Using Cyber Tracking Technology to Outsmart Poachers

ImageJef Dupain

I’m just recently back in Lomie (on border of the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon) from two days of practical training for rangers on the use of the CyberTracker/Trimble for ecological monitoring and anti-poaching.

Instead of counting living monkeys, elephants, and great apes, we witnessed the arrest of about 15 poachers on more than five different occasions. We have been hiding and running, sleeping on the ground next to the fire with guards at both sides of our overnight spot— switching every two hours, assuring security. The Conservator, Achile Mengamenya, who was with us, has a good and dedicated team of park wardens (we were about 20). Nobody complains, while equipment is lacking, and everybody works hard. We were fed water and some rice and tomato sauce in the evening, and in the morning we have one or two beignets for each.

The total amount of confiscated illegal wildlife, from the poachers, is surprising—sitatunga, forest duikers, living and dead pangolin, several species of monkey, freshly killed or smoked. No chimp, gorilla or elephant meat though…as these species are victim of a different type and more specialized category of hunters.

We heard only one group of chimps was heard about 1 km from our campsite, so we can consider that this periphery of this Natural World Heritage site is probably almost hunted out.

However, based on the interrogations of the arrested poachers, and witnesses of some park guards, it is clear that the Dja is still housing good numbers of all species, and remains attractive for a lot of people who prefer to put snares in the park instead of working on their fields in the village. With the Dja managers lacking any support for the last few years, and no control happening anymore, the Dja Biosphere is being hit very hard. And poachers are getting increasingly aggressive. Over the last few weeks, one guard got shot in his arm, another received a blow of a machete above his eye, and last night inhabitants of Lomie attacked the post of the Conservator and his team.

Alain Lushimba (who is here with me, taking the lead in the training on cybertracker) and myself agree on the area’s high resemblance with the Lomako Yokokala Faunal Reserve. While being a beautiful forest with high potentials for biodiversity, the Dja is probably in the same conditions today as the Lomako forest was in 2004 when AWF started working in DRC. Support is needed. “Performance Based Management” and “Evidence-based Conservation” à la Lomako, and the lessons learned, will prove most helpful here. The park authorities and their team are extremely happy with the support we are giving.

Today, we will adapt a work plan in order to respond, first of all, to the absolute priority to get those poachers out of the Reserve, restore law and order, and let the people know that the conservator and his team are operational again.

All paths will be georeferenced, poaching camps destroyed, traces of gorillas, chimps, elephants, bongo and buffaloes recorded, and groups of monkeys—now all frightened—counted. Data will be shared with AWF headquarters the AWF-GIS (mapping) Centre. Evaluation on the ground is planned about 4 to 5months from now.

About the Author

Jef Dupain is AWF’s Director, African Apes Initiative. He holds degrees in biology and zoology from the University of Antwerp, has served as an associate professor for great ape conservation at Kyoto University, and has nearly 20 years of practical experience working on great ape conservation in and out of the field—he has an esteemed reputation as an authority on great ape conservation in Africa.

Using technology in the fight against rhino poaching

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Information from Optron

Controlling rhino poaching with the country’s eyes on you is just one of the many tasks that fall under managing the massive area that is the Kruger National Park (KNP). With nearly 2-million hectares of diverse flora and fauna to keep track of, and only about 300 field rangers to do so, monitoring the park is a logistical nightmare. However, the use of innovative technology and customised open-source software is making the ongoing conservation of South Africa’s natural heritage possible. The Kruger National Park is divided into 22 sections, each managed by one section ranger with a number of field rangers to patrol each section every day. Field rangers are imperative for conservation – from the ground, they contribute directly to the management of the park by collecting basic environmental data during their daily patrols. Information such as the distribution of rare and endangered species, availability of surface water and disease outbreaks are integral in the ongoing management of the park. These indicators are used by the SANParks management to provide an early warning system for disease outbreaks, identify trends in illegal exit and entry points, and enable the detection and control of invasive alien species. Therefore, it is extremely important that the data collected is accurate, but when information is recorded manually it is almost impossible to ensure its complete accuracy, which makes collating and using the raw data for decision-making difficult.

When faced with the unique set of challenges that the Kruger National Park presents in terms of ecological conservation, Douw Swanepoel, a Section Ranger of the Kruger National Park, recognised the value of the CyberTracker system in 2000 and soon afterwards 44 GPS devices were purchased for the park. CyberTracker is an open-sourced programme developed by Louis Liebenberg who felt that there was a need for a tracking programme that could work from a palmtop device. The programme is freely available, and the Kruger National Park team has customised the programme specifically for the park’s needs with databases including ranger patrols, vegetation condition assessments, animal behaviour monitoring and invasive species distribution mapping.

The CyberTracker programme used on the Trimble device form a solid partnership, producing a piece of equipment designed specifically to assist with conservation in the park. With an icon-based interface and descriptions in both English and local language, the CyberTracker system is easily accessible to field rangers regardless of literacy. Information is recorded with latitude and longitude coordinates through the integrated GPS system, ensuring that separate GPS skills are not necessary, and as data is captured electronically using graphic check lists, inaccuracy is reduced and minimal training is needed before the rangers can begin recording data. Moving map functionality allows the ranger to pinpoint his exact location on a 1:50 000 or 1:250 000 topographical map or aerial photograph should a ranger urgently need assistance from the SANParks office. With a built-in camera, rangers can document and geotag exactly what they see and send the photo immediately from the field to the office for review, increasing field to office collaboration.

“The device assists the field ranger to accurately call for assistance once a suspicious spoor or even a poached rhino is found,” says Louis Lemmer, from the SAN Parks Honorary Rangers’ National Executive Committee when asked how the device is helping in the fight against rhino poaching. “Previously they had to rely on their general knowledge and geographical features when calling for help, often leading to slow response times due to possible inaccuracies and confusion. The use of GPS technology removes this. Furthermore it is now possible to track and accurately map poacher movements. In this way patterns can be established and plotted on maps. This helps to plan preventative operations.”

The devices are useful as part of a long-term solution because at the end of each day, the data that the field ranger has collected is downloaded on to the section ranger’s computer and then uploaded to SANParks’ GIS/RS Analyst, Sandra Mac Fayden. This allows her to create a full, sophisticated picture of the environmental state of the Kruger National Park with intricate detailing that can only be sourced by professional field rangers with a working knowledge of the area. Once the data has been downloaded it is archived and documented so that it is usable in the long-term.

Thresholds in the programme are set so that the limits of acceptable change in the environment can be monitored. The data in the database is then used in routine analyses run through the programme in order to assess whether there is any danger of ecological factors exceeding those thresholds, thereby warning park management of any unacceptable changes. For example, monitoring data is analysed for each river which flows through the Kruger National Park and should water levels lower and exceed the threshold set by park management, urgent action is required.

With something as volatile and ever-changing as ecology, correct data is essential in its efficient management. In the fight against rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park where intervention and constant vigilance is necessary, rapid decision making is critical and this is only possible when every step of the data collection and analysis is accurate. By using the irreplaceable knowledge and ability of field rangers, curbing human error through easy-to-use software and technology with GPS capabilities, the SANParks team is efficiently managing the vast and diverse ecosystem of the Kruger National Park and engaging in the ongoing fight against rhino poaching.

Read full article here…

Timbavati now home to one of only four Master Trackers in South Africa

ImageNews24 2014-01-30

South Africa – Have you ever thought about the skill it takes (not to mention the guts) to be able to track animals of the wild? We’re talking lions, leopards and pretty much every other animal you can think of.

Lucas Mathonsi from Sgagula, South Africa knows what we’re taking about because he is now one of only four coveted Master Trackers in the world.

Where the story begins:

His story begins as a five-year-old boy who used to accompany his father who was a ranger in the Timbavati reserve. It is here that Lucas Mathonsi was taught about the animals in the reserve and how to track them.

Over the next 47 years, Lucas honed his skills working as a tracker in the Timbavati and Balule reserves, before joining Lion Sands in 2006 as a Senior Tracker. Lucas is renowned for his particular penchant for tracking the elusive Leopard.

The story now:

In 2013, under the tutelage and mentorships of Louis Liebenberg, Juan Pinto and Wilson Masia, Lucas achieved the much coveted Master Tracker qualification, becoming one of four existing Master Trackers in the world, and only the second tracker to be awarded this prestigious qualification in the Lowveld since 1994.

What it takes to be a qualified tracker:

The Cybertracker qualification is an assessment that was created by Louis Liebenberg after realising that the art of tracking is a skill and talent that needs to be recognised and validated. An assessment system has been created and revolves around the identification of tracks as well as following animal tracks and trails in order to find the animal. For detailed info, click here.

With hard work comes great reward:

In celebration of this remarkable life achievement, the Lion Sands Game Reserve will be naming the link road between Lion Sands Sabi Sand and Lion Sands Kruger National Park the “The Mathonsi Link”.

BACKWARD COMPATIBLE

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CyberTracker fuses ancient knowledge with cutting-edge technology

By Nancy Bazilchuk

July 2008, Conservation Magazine

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.

Yet there was no doubt the terrible data were real. The findings were based on hundreds of observations precisely mapped with CyberTracker software. CyberTracker allows hand-held computers to use stylized images instead of text for data entry. Its heart is a menu of icons that depict whatever elements researchers choose. Trackers need only select a pre-programmed image that matches what they see—a grazing antelope, a carabid beetle—and with one tap, the observation is recorded and paired with geographic coordinates via a Global Positioning System (GPS) link. Trackers hardly have to break stride as they work, which allows enormous numbers of data points to be amassed with little effort. The information can be downloaded to a computer and immediately mapped, thus enabling scientists to make real-time observations about trends, such as the ones from Lossi Sanctuary that showed duiker declines.

The program’s greatest strength, and the feature that sets it apart from its competitors, is its ability to transcend language and culture because of its reliance on images, not words, for data entry.

CyberTracker creator Louis Liebenberg, a South African scientist and author, first came up with the idea in 1996 while tracking with a group of Kalahari Bushmen. Liebenberg realized that he could help save the Bushmen’s rapidly disappearing knowledge if he could find a way to help trackers, who could neither read nor write, record their observations. Thus CyberTracker was born.

CyberTracker’s biggest impact has been in South Africa’s national park system. Kruger National Park official Judith Kruger says that rangers use 110 hand-held computers daily to record sightings on patrol—everything from broken fences to elephant-damaged trees to invertebrates. Liebenberg and two rangers from South Africa’s Karoo National Park used it to document seasonal shifts in black rhino feeding behavior. And CyberTracker is being used to record garbage found littering beaches in Gabon as a way to persuade source nations to help clean up. The program allows for remarkable precision: one 500-m-long section of shoreline in Loango National Park was covered with 535 plastic water bottles and 560 flip-flops among more than 3,000 bits of trash.

The software is free and has been downloaded by more than 6,000 people since it was first made available on the Internet in 2000. About 500 users from 30 countries have registered the software—from the entire Spanish National Park Service to a multinational research group in the Arctic to individual trackers in the U.S. With the help of a 2-million-Euro (approximately US$2 million) grant from the European Commission and Conservation International, Liebenberg is developing the next generation of Cyber-Tracker. Three versions will offer increasingly complex programming features along with conservation-specific analysis tools to allow the calculation of standard measures such as Patrol Effort or Index of Abundance.

Liebenberg says the biggest benefit has been to give an authoritative, scientific “voice” to skilled trackers in Africa who can’t otherwise share their knowledge because they can’t write. Karel Benadie is a ranger and expert rhino tracker who worked with Lieben-berg in Karoo National Park. He told Liebenberg that his inability to write down his rhino observations meant “the PhDs would never listen to him before,” Liebenberg said. With Cyber-Tracker, “Now they do.”

More on the Tracker: www.cybertracker.co.za

Liebenberg, L. et al. 1999. Rhino tracking with the CyberTracker field computer. Pachyderm 27:59-61.

Leroy, E. et al. 2004. Multiple Ebola virus transmission events and rapid decline of Central African wildlife. Science 303:387-390.

About the Author
Nancy Bazilchuk is a freelance writer based in Trondheim, Norway.

A Brief History of Hunting: from Wild Animals to Subatomic Particles

ImageAkhnaton’s Journal

Hunting Subatomic Particles

One of the earliest devices (but not the first) that physicists used to detect, track and measure subatomic particles is something called a cloud chamber. The cloud chamber was invented in 1911 by the Scottish physicist Charles Wilson. A cloud chamber is actually a rather simple device. A glass container is saturated with water or alcohol vapor and a temperature gradient is created by placing dry ice on the bottom and a hot water pack on top. This gradient produces an atmosphere that allow clouds to form. When a radioactive substance is introduced in the chamber, it releases subatomic particles like electrons and beta particles (a helium nucleus).  These particles acts as the “condensation” nuclei, and as they stream out of the radioactive source, they produce visible streams of ‘clouds’. We can not actually see the subatomic particles; what we see is water vapor (or alcohol vapor) nucleated by the particles. Different particles behave differently in different situations, like in a magnetic field across the chamber. Electrons and beta particles have opposite charges, for example, so they will bend in opposite directions in a magnetic field. Beta particles are more massive than electrons, so they will not bend as sharply.

“Seeing” electrons and beta particles is relatively easy.  Any radioactive substance will do. You can actually purchase Tritium (radioactive helium isotope) or other radioactive sources and build your own cloud chamber with household items. In the past 100 years, more sophisticated devices have been invented to track subatomic particles, but the basic tracking principles are the same.

To find particles like the Higgs boson, we also need to know where and how to look for them.  Physicists come up with complicated mathematics models to figure out the conditions and variables needed to produce the particles, and then try to produce them by creating the conditions and manipulating the necessary variables.  There is a rather simple 3-step formula that physicists follow either knowingly or by habit. First (step 1) you study the tracks and behavior of particles in ideal conditions or situations that are easy to discern.  You build on what we already know, essentially.  That’s why physicists spend so much time and effort in school before actually working in a laboratory. In step 2, you manipulate the conditions and collect data in different situations following the same kind of thought processes.  Then once you have enough data, you use that data to construct a working hypothesis of where and how to find the next particle.  From this hypothetical reconstruction you look for the most likely place to find tracks or other evidence of new particles (step 3).  The Higgs boson, for example, has made it to step 2 of this formula (enough data has been collected to develop a working hypothesis that it exists), and recently, after overcoming some complications, made it to step 3 (actually finding evidence of it’s existance).  If the Higgs boson did not exist we would have had to come up with a new hypothesis.

This thought process is sometimes called the scientific method or deductive reasoning (or call it the hypothetico-deductive method if you really want to impress people), and it’s greatest power is that it allows us to know about things and processes we cannot see.   This is a quite powerful and effective tool, and it has had a profound effect on how humans function in the world. We are often taught that the scientific method was first fully developed by Europeans sometime between the Renaissance and the industrial revolution, or the era loosely known as the age of Enlightenment. It is, in fact, often claimed to be directly responsible for the European ‘Enlightenment’. Other sources credit ancient Greek philosophers with first articulating the reasoning process, or at least the legitimate system of reasoning.  In 350 B.C., Aristotle wrote a book titled Organon in which he articulates the art of reasoning.  Unfortunately, this system did not help Aristotle in figuring out that the earth revolves around the Sun, however.

Tracking Wildlife

Sometime in the 1980s, a man from South Africa by the name of Louis Liebenberg started his academic career by studying physics and mathematics at the University of Cape Town and was initially interested in particle physics.  After taking a course in the philosophy of science, however, he became interested in an idea that the origins of science began not with the age of Enlightenment or with the Greeks but rather with our hunting and gathering ancestors, and that tracking sub-atomic particles is not much different, conceptually at least, than hunting wild game.

Having grown up in South Africa during apartheid, Liebenberg had never worked with a black African until studying hunting techniques with the Kalahari San or !Kung people in Botswana and Namibia (often popularly known as Bushmen).  Liebenberg wrote a book in 1990 titled the Art of Tracking: the Origins of Science where he states that the tracking ability of foragers and hunters “is science that requires fundamentally the same intellectual abilities as modern physics and mathematics.”  When tracking down animals, for example, you can’t just follow the tracks because they disappear eventually.  The hunter-gatherers gather data about the feeding habits, breeding behavior, and migrating patterns of animals, for example (step 1 of the 3-step process mentioned above).  They then use the that information to create hypotheses and models about where to find more animals (step 2).  The hunters then follows the models to track down and ‘confirm’ their models (step 3). This knowledge underpins “a process of creative problem-solving in which hypotheses are continuously tested against spoor evidence, rejecting those which do not stand up and replacing them with better hypotheses.”  In essence, this ability is what makes us human, and for more than 200,000 years, we have used this ability for hunting animals and gathering plants, and only recently have we co-opted this strategy for finding other things like subatomic particles, criminals, and lower prices on houses, stocks and bonds, and household items.

The two major differences between hunters of Kalahari and the particle trackers at CERN are the things they are looking for and the instruments used to record data of the things’ whereabouts.  Concerning the first difference, you might say that the CERN physicists have a more inefficient and indirect way of obtaining their food. They use their hunting skills to find particles they can not eat but they keep detailed records and write down their predictions and discoveries which they use to impress other people who provide them the means to obtain their food. Concerning the second difference, the San depend primarily on their memories to record data, whereas CERN physicists are somewhat deficient in their memory skills so they have come to depend on other recording devices.  To be fair, the physicists have a very massive load of data to work with. They have so much data and information they share with physicists from all over the world that one of their former engineers, Tim Berners-Lee, developed in 1989 a protocol for hypertext documentation known as the ‘World Wide Web’ to make things a little easier (it initially didn’t help much with that effort, but other people outside of CERN found the protocol useful).

In 1997, Liebenberg got together with Justin Steventon, a software developer at Microsoft to found a company called CyberTracker.  CyberTracker makes software for portable electronic devices that could be used to track and record wildlife. The idea was inspired by Liebenberg’s interactions among the Kalahari San.  CyberTracker software is not only used to track wild game, but is also being used in wildlife preservation efforts, search and rescue missions, and even in finding criminals.

Further Reading
Leon Lederman. 1996. The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Louis W. Liebenberg. 1990. The Art of Tracking: The Origins of Science. Cape Town, South Africa: David Phillip.

Online Resources for Creating a Cloud Chamber
Building a Cloud Chamber for detecting Cosmic Rays, from the American Museum of Natural History.

Audubon Magazine: Off the Beaten Track

ImageBY VICTORIA SCHLESINGER

Wildlife tracking is making a comeback, attracting outdoor enthusiasts and biologists alike. For some it’s an engrossing hobby; for others it’s a critical contribution to conservation.

Even as tracking has captured the public’s interest, there has been a decline in natural history courses offered at universities. Across the country, schools have eliminated classes in basic taxonomy, ornithology, mammalogy, herpetology–the list goes on–causing a flurry of journal papers expressing concern about the future of organismal science and the next generation. “It is not trendy, it doesn’t bring in the big grants, or those kinds of subjects are considered to be old fashioned,” says Reed Noss, an ecologist at the University of Central Florida and author of essays on the decline. (Today many conservation biology students devote themselves to statistical modeling and DNA analysis.) “So very few people are coming out of graduate school even trained and able to teach those kinds of courses.”

“We lose a basic connection to nature when we don’t immerse ourselves in natural history and only deal with mathematical abstractions and theory,” says Noss, who laments changes in environmental education since the 1970s. “There was already a shift away from classification and toward experiential education where basically you played games with the kid. No one ever wanted to name anything because ‘No, that’ll turn kids off to nature if they make it hard work.’ ” The danger of these two extremes is that by “losing specialists equipped to identify organisms, we’re not able to track the extinction crisis nearly as adequately as in the past.”

Read the full article here…

Profile of an Icon: Master Tracker Karel Benadie

ImageFrom: 21 Icons – South Africa

by Michael Hathorn

A boy, slight and quick on his feet, runs up a hill close to his house in the jagged Karoo landscape. The hill is steep, and the days are hot, but he does this every morning. His daily routine: running tracking, and looking for the caracals that prey on sheep. He is Karel Benadie, and today, forty years after those morning runs up the hill, that young boy has become a master tracker – a rare distinction.

He has paid the price now for those early escapades, and all the subsequent years moving across the Karoo on foot. His back is stiff, and his knees struggle to bend. His eyes are as keen as ever though, and his ability to track remains unchanged. He is always alert to the bush and the creatures moving through it, making a rare boast: “I could track a spider.”

Benadie, in addition to having earned the title of master tracker, is active in passing on his knowledge. He works now at a game reserve in the Eastern Cape, training young people from disadvantaged communities in the art of tracking. He spends 1500 hours in the field with his students over the course of a year, working with them during the first half of the day.

In the afternoons, they are taught theory by his wife, Janetta, also a member of the academy. It is important work, and successful. The knowledge that Benadie possesses is vital to conservation, as efforts to protect and reintroduce endangered species would fall flat without the work of trackers on the ground monitoring the animals and protecting them from poachers.

Through his teaching, Benadie is ensuring that his skills are not lost, with immediate benefits to his students as well as the conservation community: over 90 percent of the tracker academy’s graduates find permanent employment in the industry.

At the age of fifteen, he was recruited by South African National Parks when the farm that he lived on was absorbed into a protected area. Initially employed as a fence-checker, his knowledge and skill was soon recognised. He was moved to game ranging, and his budding expertise was honed into mastery of the ancient craft of tracking. Working at such a young age meant that he was not given a formal education: he is one of the most highly-skilled individuals in South Africa, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of medicinal plants and wildlife patterns, and he has not completed school. His knowledge has been earned through long, tiring work that can become dangerous in an instant.

Rhinos are enormous, and capable of serious destruction when threatened and moved to anger. Benadie, while with two students, once stood up to one as it charged towards him; using only twigs and leaves, he created enough confusion to allow himself and the students to get away. “After that I was so scared. I was shaking – not outside, but inside I was shaking,” he says.

The Karoo is an inhospitable place. It is hot during the day and freezing at night. The landscape is full of rocks and the terrain is, one would think, nightmarish for a tracker. There is precious little sand, and the plant life is dry and brittle. Instead of following paw prints and scratched leaves, Benadie has learnt to follow disturbed stones and broken twigs, to look for signs in the land that point to the possibility of a trail, rather than a trail itself.

A large part of this art is abstraction, and takes place in his mind – Benadie prides himself on being able to think like the animals he follows, to anticipate their movements when physical evidence is lacking.

When he talks about this, his hands are as animated as his face, mimicking the soft, light padding of a leopard or the sharp hooves of a kudu. He struggles to express himself when speaking in English – it is his second language– but comes into his own when talking about his craft or pointing out the signs of a trail. This is where it becomes obvious why he has earned the title ‘master tracker’: his mind is fast, certain, and filled with knowledge of the bush.

The day that he was born, 24 July 1963, was freezing – the coldest in Beaufort West’s recorded history. The nearby mountain peaks were covered in snow, and a derivative of the Afrikaans word for it, ‘Kapok’, became Benadie’s nickname, Pokkie. That’s the name that he has gone by for his entire life, preferring it to Karel.

At the age of 27 he met the man who would become his mentor, Louis Liebenberg. A scientist who specialises in monitoring wildlife, Liebenberg is part of the tracking community, and identified Benadie as an individual with immense skill and knowledge. They formed a partnership centred on Benadie’s abilities and Liebenberg’s scientific background, and began to work on research projects together.

Karel Benadie has worked for years with very little recognition outside of the tracking community, acquiring knowledge that is growing increasingly rare as the years pass. His ability to acquire and retain information is up there with the world’s most celebrated intellects, but because of its unusual nature receives minimal attention. Another factor in Benadie’s lack of acclaim is his own personality: his skill as a tracker is matched by the depths of his humility. His value to South Africa and the world is unquestionable, and his contributions as a tracker and an educator to the field of conservation have been enormous. He has never asked to be celebrated, and prefers to let his work speak for him, but that doesn’t mean he should be overlooked: his story is one that everyone should hear.

As a part of this, Benadie spent fifteen years following black rhino after they were reintroduced to the Karoo National Park, recording their movements every day in order to better understand their needs for the purposes of conservation. Benadie would spend long stretches of time travelling across very difficult terrain on foot tracing the movements of the rhino. Together with another tracker, James Minye – one of the only other master trackers in the country – Benadie’s data was published in the scientific journal Pachyderm, going a long way towards proving the value of his work as scientific endeavour.

http://www.21icons.com/twentyone-icons/essays/karel-benadie

The CyberTracker Story

ImageBy Louis Liebenberg

The Origin of Science

CyberTracker has grown from a simple hypothesis: The art of tracking may have been the origin of science. Science may have evolved more than a hundred thousand years ago with the evolution of modern hunter-gatherers. Scientific reasoning may therefore be an innate ability of the human mind. This may have far-reaching implications for indigenous knowledge, citizen science and self-education.

The Persistence Hunt

In 1990 I ran the persistence hunt with !Nate at Lone Tree in the Kalahari. The persistence hunt involves running down an antelope in the mid-day heat on an extremely hot day – chasing the antelope until it drops from heat exhaustion. This may well be one of the oldest forms of hunting, going back two million years ago, long before humans invented bows and arrows. Persistence hunting may have played a critical role in the evolution of the art of tracking and the origin of science.

In 2001 I worked with David Attenborough on the BBC film showing Karoha doing the Persistence Hunt. You can watch Karoha running down a kudu in the video at

Video: The Persistence Hunt

Reviving the Dying Art of Tracking

After running the persistence hunt in 1990 !Nate asked me to help them. They could no longer live as hunter-gathers and needed jobs. Wildlife in the Kalahari has been decimated by fences that cut off migration routes. It was no longer viable to live as hunter-gatherers. And the art of tracking was dying out. After hundreds of thousands of years, traditional tracking skills may soon be lost. Yet tracking can be developed into a new science with far-reaching implications for nature conservation.

We had lengthy discussions around the fire, and it was decided that I should try to find a way to create jobs for trackers. Only by developing tracking into a modern profession, will tracking itself survive into the future. !Nam!kabe agreed that this will be good for the future. But he also had the wisdom to know that it will take a long time. This was for the younger generation, he said, it will not be for him. When he died in 1995 his exceptional tracking expertise was irretrievably lost. He was one of the last of the old generation hunters and one of the best trackers. !Nam!kabe inspired the creation of the Master Tracker certificate – the highest standard of tracking that others could aspire to.

The Tracker Evaluation methodology that I developed provide certification of practical tracking skills, thereby enabling trackers to get jobs in ecotourism, as rangers in anti-poaching units, in wildlife monitoring and scientific research. Tracker evaluations have since 1994 resulted in a steady growth of trackers with increasing levels of tracking skills, thereby reviving tracking as a modern profession.

The Tracker Institute was established as a centre of learning for the highest standards of excellence in the art of tracking and to develop the next generation of Master Trackers. The Tracker Institute is situated in the Thornybush Nature Reserve, providing the opportunity to track lion, leopard, rhino and a wide diversity of species. In addition to providing intensive individual mentoring of practical tracking skills, it will also serve as a research institute.

CyberTracker

If the art of tracking was the origin of science, then modern-day trackers should be able to do science. However, some of the best traditional trackers in Africa cannot read or write. To overcome this problem, the CyberTracker software was developed with an icon-based user interface that enabled expert non-literate trackers to record complex geo-referenced observations on animal behaviour.

In 1996 I teamed up with Justin Steventon, a brilliant young computer science student at the University of Cape Town. The CyberTracker user interface was developed with the help of Karel Benadie, a tracker working in the Karoo National Park in South Africa. Together with fellow ranger and tracker James Minye, they tracked the highly endangered Black Rhino, recording their movements and behaviour in minute detail. Together we published a paper on rhino feeding behaviour in the journal Pachyderm. This is perhaps the first paper based on data gathered independently by two non-literate trackers, confirming a hypothesis about rhino feeding behaviour put forward by the trackers. It was a demonstration that non-literate trackers can do science.

In 2008 the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor Project was initiated, funded by Conservation International for a three-year period. Community members from several villages were employed to use the CyberTracker to conduct track counts. This was the first time that !Nate and Karoha were employed in a major research project, enabling them to use their traditional tracking skills, using the CyberTracker, in a modern context.

You can watch Karoha using the CyberTracker in the video at

Video: Tracking in the Cyber Age

Involving scientists and local communities in key areas of biodiversity, CyberTracker combines indigenous knowledge with state-of-the-art computer and satellite technology.

Towards a New Science

From its origins with the Kalahari Bushmen, CyberTracker projects have been initiated to monitor gorillas in the Congo, butterflies in Switzerland, the Sumatran rhino in Borneo, jaguars in Costa Rica, birds in the Amazon, wild horses in Mongolia, dolphins in California, marine turtles in the Pacific and whales in Antarctica.

CyberTracker is being used by indigenous communities, in national parks, scientific research, citizen science, environmental education, forestry, farming, social surveys, health surveys, crime prevention and disaster relief.

The CyberTracker story is captured in the powerful image of Karoha holding the CyberTracker, with his hunting bag slung over his shoulder. The image symbolises the cultural transition from hunter-gatherer to the modern computer age. Persistence hunting may be the most ancient form of hunting, possibly going back two million years, long before the invention of the bow-and-arrow or the domestication of dogs. After two million years, Karoha may well be the last hunter who has been doing the persistence hunt. Yet of all the hunters at Kagcae, Karoha is the most proficient in using the CyberTracker. In Karoha, one individual not only represents one of the most ancient human traditions, but also the future of tracking with computers.

Karoha’s story represents the most profound cultural leap – a story that gives hope for the future: The ancient art of tracking can be revitalized and developed into a new science to monitor the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

At a more fundamental level, it shows us that anyone, regardless of their level of education, whether or not they can read or write, regardless of their cultural background, can make a contribution to science.