Tag Archives: CyberTracker

The Australian Marine Debris Initiative


The Australian Marine Debris Initiative is a way that everyone can become involved in both the removal of marine debris and finding solutions to stop the flow of rubbish into our oceans.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation is an Australian registered charity focused on the health of our marine environment, and coordinates the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, an on-ground network of volunteers, communities, organisations and agencies around the country monitoring the impacts of marine debris along their stretch of coastline.

Since the program started in 2004, more than 1.2 million pieces of marine debris have been removed from the Australian coastline and data on this debris collated and inputted into the Australian Marine Debris Database.

The database is used to firstly identify what is impacting different sections of the coast, and then to track wherever possible where those items are coming from. Lastly stakeholders are then brought together to work on practical solutions and create source reduction plans to stop marine debris from entering our oceans in the first place. The database has open access to all contributors who are also recognised when data is used, and has been used by the CSIRO, James Cook University, all levels of government and communities.

While an estimated 18,000 pieces of plastic float in every square kilometre of ocean, it is only when it washes ashore that most people get an idea of how much rubbish must actually be out in our oceans and the impacts that this has on marine life and seabirds. This is also our best opportunity to remove it from the environment before the next tide washes it back out to sea again.

Volunteers, organisations and communities from around the country are invited to join forces in the Australian Marine Debris Initiative to find practical solutions in reducing ocean pollution.

The AMDI CyberTracker Sequence was designed using the CyberTracker software and a handheld PDA device to collect data in the field.

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.


On Endurance Running, the Development of Scientific Thinking and Creating Greater Environmental Awareness

On-Endurance-Runningby Markus Kittner

Probably over 2 million years old and likely the most ancient form of hunting (before the domestication of dogs and the invention of weapons), persistence hunting is/was done without weapons. This was mainly possible because of the unique human physical ability to outrun an animal to exhaustion. Strange as it sounds humans are the best adapted creatures on earth to run long distances in hot conditions. Because unlike most animals our upright bodies aren’t so close to the hot ground, we sweat to cool down, don’t need to drink as frequently as other animals and our breathing is independent from our stride.

But besides endurance running, another important factor contributing to our persistence hunting success was our unique ability for scientific thinking. Humans had to be able to deduce, predict and theorize where the prey might be or run to (more on this in the videos to follow).

Back in the early 1980′s, 22 year old Louis Liebenberg was majoring in Maths and Physics at Cape Town University. There he had begun challenging the traditional view that the human brain could not be the product of natural selection because of it’s appreciation for art and science (which meant that it far exceeded the capacity of all other animals). However Louis had a hunch that scientific thinking was indeed evolutionary and had developed as a necessity for the survival of modern hunter-gatherer societies, especially from the practice of animal tracking in hunting. So on deciding he would rather research his evolutionary intuition than finish his studies, to prove his evolution theory Louis dropped out of college.

Read the full article here…

Betting on Black Swans: The Potential Implications of New Energy Solutions for Climate Change and Biodiversity

ImageLouis Liebenberg

14 January 2014

Revolutionary new energy sources may result in the most disruptive changes in human history. Any one of these potential energy sources may become a Black Swan event. This may have both positive as well as unintended consequences for climate change and biodiversity conservation. While the implications for climate change would be positive, severe disruptions in land-use patterns will require intensive monitoring of biodiversity and proactive conservation management.

Accelerated fossil fuel use could conceivably push the Earth’s climate past a dangerous tipping point resulting in runaway global warming. James Hansen warns that we are on the verge of crossing a tipping point into catastrophic climate change. More and more evidence suggest that we could potentially face runaway climate change at a much faster rate than anticipated. While we need to actively pursue all alternative energy options, including energy conservation, novel energy solutions may be essential. We need to provide the growing energy needs of a growing world economy, both in terms of population growth as well as increasing consumption due to growing wealth required to eliminate poverty of the growing population.

Fusion Energy

Since the German physicist Hans Bethe first explained how nuclear fusion powers the stars in 1939, there have been many attempts to harness fusion on Earth with mixed success.

The largest government-sponsored fusion projects include ITER in France and the NIF in the USA. In 2007 construction work started on ITER in Cadarache, France. And in 2009 the US National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, opened. NIF uses powerful lasers to compress and heat hydrogen fuel and so initiate fusion for military and astrophysical research. These large research programmes, however, may take decades to become economically viable.

An interesting potential Black Swan is the independent, privately funded project that was initiated in 2002 when Dr. Michel Laberge founded General Fusion to develop economically viable fusion energy. His key insight was realizing that Magnetized Target Fusion, with the aid of modern electronics, materials, and advances in plasma physics, could provide a faster, lower cost, and more practical path to fusion power.

General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion system uses a sphere, filled with molten lead-lithium that is pumped to form a vortex.  On each pulse, magnetically-confined plasma is injected into the vortex. Around the sphere, an array of pistons impact and drive a pressure wave into the centre of the sphere, compressing the plasma to fusion conditions.

Novel Forms of Energy

Perhaps the most surprising Black Swans may come in the form of novel solutions that may be found in nuclear processes that have not yet been harnessed, which could result in an unexpected energy revolution.

As a student in 1984 at the University of Cape Town I studied physics under Prof Jan Rafelski (now at The University of Arizona). At the time one of his fields of research was the physics of table top Muon-catalyzed fusion (Rafelski and Jones, 1987). Since then I had a life-long interest in the possibility of clean fusion energy.

One of the most exciting recent developments in physics is in the field of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR). At present it is not clear when LENR could replace fossil fuels. But if successful, LENR may result in the most disruptive energy revolution in history. It provides the potential for limitless, cheap, safe, distributed, clean energy that can be used on a small scale to provide energy for a single home or scaled up for industrial uses.

In a video released on January 16, 2014 at Serious Science, MIT Associate Prof. Peter Hagelstein talks about the Problem of Cold Fusion and the Fleischmann and Pons experiment, condensed matter physics, and the laws of conservation of energy in momentum.

In 2009 Scott Pelley of the CBS News TV programme “60 Minutes” did a story on “Cold Fusion Hot Again.” A video was released by Joe Zawodny (2012) of NASA and in 2013 Forbes reported on research conducted by NASA on LENR. An “Overview of Theoretical and Experimental Progress in Low Energy Nuclear Reactions” was presented by Francesco Celani (2012) and Yogendra Srivastava (2012) at a CERN Colloquium in March 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. Robert Godes (2012) maintains that Brillion Energy Corporation will be able to generate power at a fourth of the cost of coal or natural gas power.

Two physicists, Giuliano Preparata (Univ. Statute di Milano) and Allan Widom (Northeastern University, Boston), have proposed a theoretical model of the physics of LENR (Srivastava, 2012). While various chemical elements may be involved, one version of LENR involves Nickel (one of the most abundant elements on Earth) and Hydrogen, which would provide a limitless supply of cheap energy. The by-products would be the transmutation of Nickel into Copper, with no radioactive waste, greenhouse gases or any other form of dangerous pollution (Srivastava, Widom and Larsen, 2010).

In May 2013 an independent report has been published on the “Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device containing hydrogen loaded nickel powder” (Levi, et. Al. 2013). The authors report that: “Even by the most conservative assumptions as to the errors in the measurements, the result is still one order of magnitude greater than conventional energy sources.” News reports have been featured in Forbes (Gibbs, 2013) and Wired (Hambling, 2013).

The inventor Andrea Rossi aims to bring a commercial product to the market within the next few years. On January 24, 2014, it was announced that Industrial Heat has acquired Rossi’s E-Cat Technology. “The world needs a new, clean and efficient energy source. Such a technology would raise the standard of living in developing countries and reduce the environmental impact of producing energy… Even by the most conservative assumptions as to the errors in the measurements, the result is still one order of magnitude greater than conventional energy sources”

In competition with Rossi, companies like Defklaion Green Technologies, Nichenergy, Brillouin Energy Corporation, Lattice Energy LLC as well as high-profile companies like Mitsubishi and Toyota are also working on commercializing energy generation based on LENR.

An update in Wired magazine, “Cold fusion continues to progress stealthily into the mainstream,” suggests that 2014 is set to be a very interesting year for Low Energy Nuclear Reactions.

Implications for Climate Change and Biodiversity

If any one of these potential energy solutions can successfully be brought to the market, it will be a true Black Swan event that may have profound implications for climate change and the conservation of biodiversity.

Climate Change: It may completely replace fossil fuels, halting the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Furthermore, inexpensive clean energy may make it possible to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to bring it back to pre-industrial levels, thereby stabilizing the climate. However, even if we stopped using fossil fuels, we may still experience disruptive climate over the next 100 years.

Water and Food Production: It may become viable to desalinate sea water on a large scale, minimizing the need to extract fresh water from rivers. Vertical farming (Despommier, 2009) may become more efficient than conventional farming. Large areas of farm land may revert back to wilderness. While this may increase the area of land available for biodiversity, it is not clear what the unintended impacts may be of the uncontrolled spread of alien species on abandoned farmland.

Social and Economic Disruptions: Accelerated urbanization and depopulation of rural areas. Inexpensive energy may accelerate the automation of industry resulting in large-scale unemployment. This may require a fundamental restructuring of the economy.

Biodiversity: An irregular climate and the disruptive impacts on land-use patterns may require intensive monitoring of biodiversity to manage the spread of alien species and the influx of indigenous species onto abandoned farm land.

CyberTracker’s Vision: In the future millions of citizen scientists worldwide may use their smartphones to monitor the entire global ecosystem in real time. Large-scale unemployment may provide an opportunity to create “Green jobs” to stimulate the economy and provide the manpower needed for conservation management. Intensive monitoring may reveal new data on the complexities of ecosystems evolving over time in response to disruptions in land-use patterns. Intelligent computers may be used to analyse huge quantities of complex data and predict future trends.


Celani, F. 2012. “Overview of Theoretical and Experimental Progress in Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR).” CERN Colloquium Thursday March 22, 2012, Geneva, Switzerland.

Despommier, D. 2009. “The Rise of Vertical Farms.” Scientific American, Vol. 301. No. 5.

Gibs, M. 2013. “Finally! Independent Testing Of Rossi’s E-Cat Cold Fusion Device: Maybe The World Will Change After All.” Forbes.

Godes, R. 2012. Interview with Robert Godes, inventor of the controlled electron capture reaction (CECR) being commercialized by Brillion Energy Corporation of Berkeley.

Hambling, D. 2013. “Cold Fusion gets red hot and aims for EU” Wired.

Hansen, J. 2009. Storms of my Grandchildren. The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save humanity. London: Bloomsbury

Levi, G, E. Foschi, T. Hartman, B. Hӧistad, R. Pettersson, L. Tegnér and H. Essén. 2013. Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device containing hydrogen loaded nickel powder.

Pelley, S. 2009. “Cold Fusion Hot Again.” CBS News TV programme “60 Minutes.”

Rafelski, J. and S. E. Jones. 1987. “Cold Nuclear Fusion.” Scientific American, Vol. 257, No. 7.

Srivastava, Y. N., A. Widom and L. Larsen. 2010. “A primer for electroweak induced low-energy nuclear reactions.”

Srivastava, Y. N. 2012. “Overview of LENT Theory Low Energy Nuclear Transmutations.” CERN Colloquium Thursday March 22, 2012, Geneva, Switzerland.

Zawodny, J. 2012. “Method for Enhancement of Surface Plasmon Polaritons to Initiate & Sustain LENR.”  

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.


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.