Cybertracker and the development of Tracker Evaluations
Originating in South Africa in 1994, CyberTracker Tracker Evaluations are conducted across Africa, began in the USA in 2007, and have since then spread across the globe. CyberTracker is the only organization to offer a standardized testing format in tracking. While not all of the best trackers in the world are certified by the CyberTracker system, the system does give us a means to identify the skill level of those who have participated, and this pool of evaluated experts should include the people we are using to collect reliable track-based data for conservation decisions.
The CyberTracker Tracker Evaluation has two parts (click on each one for descriptions and stories):
Where it all began… an excerpt from Louis Liebenberg on the CyberTracker website:
In December 1994 I went to Thornybush Private Game Reserve to conduct the first tracker certification. I only had a vague idea of what I was going to do.
On my arrival I was introduced to a group of rangers and trackers, who were told that I was going to evaluate them. It was clear that they did not think much of this idea – something the boss had forced onto them from above. And after all, who is this guy coming from the city who thinks he can teach them anything about tracking in their own Bushveld terrain. The skepticism was obvious on their faces, which made me even more nervous. I started off by giving an introductory talk about how tracker certificates can help trackers get better jobs and negotiate better salaries. The lack of response from the rangers soon made me move on to the next step – a practical test on spooridentification. So we went out to the nearest waterhole to find some tracks.
Before I could start, one of the Shangaan trackers stopped me. He circled a track in the dust – a faint smudge that looked like nothing. One by one he asked each of the predominantly white rangers what it was – none of them got it right. Then he asked each one of the Shangaan trackers present to tell him what it was – none of them got it right. Then he turned towards me and said: “You tell them what track this is”. Looking down at the track, I pointed to three other smudges near it, the four together forming the bounding gait of a hare, and told him: “It is a hare”. He looked at me and said: “Ok, now you can continue”.
This Shangaan tracker was Wilson Masia, who subsequently became one of the first three South African trackers to be awarded the Master Tracker certificate.
The Art of Tracking may well be the origin of science. 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.
Apart from knowledge based on direct observations of animals, trackers gain a detailed understanding of animal behaviour through the interpretation of tracks and signs. In this way much information can be obtained that would otherwise remain unknown, especially on the behaviour of rare or nocturnal animals that are not often seen.
Furthermore, tracks and signs offer information on undisturbed, natural behaviour, while direct observations often influences the animal by the mere presence of the observer. Tracking is therefore a non-invasive method of information gathering, in which potential stress caused to animals can be minimised.
Wildlife research often relies upon skilled observers to collect accurate field data (Wilson and Delahay, 2001). However, when the skill level of the observers is unknown, the accuracy of collected data is questionable (Anderson, 2001). Observer reliability is an important issue to address in wildlife research, yet it has often been overlooked or assumed to be high (Anderson, 2003). Measuring observer field skills enables managers to select the most qualified observers, thereby increasing confidence in collecting data (Evans, et al, 2009).
The CyberTracker Tracker Certification covers the fundamental principles of tracking as well as the finer details and sophisticated aspects of tracking. This is done on an individual basis, depending on the level of each candidate. The evaluation is in the form of a practical field test. Rather than pointing out details, each individual is first asked to give his or her own interpretation. Mistakes are corrected and explained continuously throughout the duration of the evaluation. This process identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in order to develop the potential of each individual in accordance to his or her level of skill.