This video from ABC News: Tracking Animals With GPS from the year 2000 takes us back to the early days of CyberTracker. At that time, we had one CyberTracker running on an Apple Newton unit in the Karoo National Park in South Africa and just started our second project with the Kwe San Bushmen in Namibia, using the PalmPilot.
Technology is allowing anyone to contribute to scientific research, with implications for conservation, disease prevention and much more.
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.
Sarah Dwyer, Gabriela Tezanos-Pinto, Ingrid Visser, Matthew Pawley, Anna Meissner, Jo Berghan and Karen Stockin have just published a paper on “Overlooking a potential hotspot at Great Barrier Island for the nationally endangered bottlenose dolphin of New Zealand” in the journal Endangered Species Research, Vol. 25:97-114, 2014.
ABSTRACT: Conservation initiatives are typically constrained by economic circumstances, a factor certainly true for marine mammal conservation in New Zealand. Most research in this field has been conducted following concerns over anthropogenic impacts on populations and has therefore been funded and/or driven by stakeholder interest. Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus are classified as ‘Nationally Endangered’ in New Zealand waters. Here, we present the first study on occurrence, site fidelity and abundance of this species off Great Barrier Island (GBI), a previously overlooked region within the home range of the North Island population. Dedicated boat-based photo-identification surveys were conducted monthly from 2011−2013, resulting in 1412 sighting records of 154 individuals. Dolphins were recorded during all months of the year, with a higher probability of encounter in deeper waters during summer and shallower waters during winter and spring. Group sizes (median = 35, mean = 36) were higher than previously reported for this population in other regions. Individual re-sighting patterns were variable; however, overall site fidelity was high (mean monthly sighting rate = 0.33). A Robust Design approach resulted in seasonal fluctuations in abundance and temporary emigration. Based on a super-population estimate, 171 dolphins (CI = 162−180) visited the area during 2011−2013. Our data suggest that GBI is a potential hotspot for bottlenose dolphins of the North Island population rather than a corridor to reach other destinations. We highlight the need for researchers, managers and funding agencies to consider the entire range of a population when conducting or funding research.
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.
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.