The term is misleading here in North America, as tracker certification has nothing to do with computers. To the contrary, this process is about the tracker’s ability to observe and interpret the natural world directly, unmediated by technology. The name has rich history, however, rooted in the system’s mission to recognize, train, and utilize local experts and traditional ecological knowledge.
CyberTracker Conservation was developed by Louis Liebenberg in the early 1990’s as a process designed to celebrate and employ ecological knowledge of indigenous trackers in southern Africa (namely the San of the Kalahari) in wildlife research and conservation. Many of these trackers were unable to read and write but were exceptionally ecologically literate, able to interpret complex wildlife activity across vast landscapes with remarkable accuracy. To implement this skillset in modern research, Liebenberg spear-headed the development of icon-based handheld-computer software called “CyberTracker” so that trackers on the ground could electronically log their field observations.
Additionally, due to the impacts of western colonialism on traditional culture and territory, tracking knowledge was at that time in steep decline and threatened to mostly disappear from the region all together. The “Tracking Evaluation”—the first of which Liebenberg conducted in the Thornybush Nature Preserve in 1994—aimed to identify the dwindling few with excellent trackig ability, help rebuild a body of tracking knowledge and inspire younger generations, and provide an avenue for cultural preservation and economic opportunity by reviving tracking as a modern profession. The engaging and rigorous process would go on to become a world-wide standardized assessment of tracking skill and observer reliability, and a tool that rapidly develops skilled trackers around the globe.
CyberTracker makes its way to North America
Ecologist and author Dr. Mark Elbroch earned his Senior Tracker Evaluator Certificate in Kruger National Park in 2005, and subsequently provided the first CyberTracker Tracker Evaluation in North America late that same year. In collaboration with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Texas A&M University, the first evaluations were used to test observer reliability in wildlife biologists recording the presence of river otters (Lontra canadensis) in eastern Texas*. The Evaluation system proved to be an excellent measure of field skill and an unparalleled training tool; excitement for the process grew and the program was enlarged to provide evaluations to TPWD employees throughout the state.
The system grew quickly across the U.S as word spread of its effectiveness and high-standard of wildlife knowledge and tracking ability, and as participants saw immediate gains in their ability to read and interpret track and sign in their home ecosystems. The evaluations are also remarkably engaging experiences within a supportive community, and the open and encouraging learning environment drew new interest to the field. As of 2019 some 2000 individuals in North America, including wildlife biologists, ecologists, citizen scientists, hunters, educators, guides, and nature-enthusiasts have participated in Track and Sign and Trailing Evaluations. Today, CyberTracker Conservation’s unique system is the international gold standard for tracker training and certification across Africa, Europe, and North America.
For more information on Cybertracker Conservation visit cybertracker.org.