[ Project Watch ]

Tracking Tracking

Centuries-old tracking techniques meet — and inform — 21st century technologies

CyberTracker Conservation has a vision: environmental observations by smartphone users worldwide compiled in real time, creating a worldwide environmental monitoring network. Since 1997, the non-profit organization has been providing free software for handheld devices used by trackers, scientists, and researchers to record observations in the field.

CyberTracker LogoCyberTracker came about through the work of Louis Liebenberg, a South African conservation scientist who learned tracking from bow-and-arrow hunters in Botswana. Liebenberg saw that their traditional tracking skills were falling out of use as the culture of the hunter/gatherer was becoming obsolete. He recognized the importance of their skills and knowledge for conservation, even though they could neither read nor write. So he and his development team created customizable software with GPS and a simple icon-based user interface that enabled the hunters to record what they saw in the field.

The software is first loaded onto a PC or laptop where the database is customized for the data capture task at hand. Once data is collected in the field, it’s downloaded onto the PC for analysis and reporting. Data collection points can be overlaid onto a map or satellite image of the target area. CyberTracker Version 3.284 (or earlier) supports most PalmOS, PocketPC, and Windows Mobile Devices (but does not run on Windows Phone 7 or 8 or the Apple iPhone). A beta version for Android smartphones, tablets, and PDAs is now available.

CyberTracker in use

CyberTracker in use for tracker training
Photo by Holger Roehle / CC-BY-SA-3.0; CC-BY-SA-3.0-DE; GFDL / via Wikimedia Commons

From its origins with the Kalahari Bushmen in 1996, CyberTracker projects have been initiated to monitor gorillas in the Congo, butterflies in Switzerland, invasive plants in Australia, 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, mountain lions in the American West, and whales in Antarctica.

Download the software, and check out the CyberTracker page on Facebook, where people using the software share information about the projects they’re working on and help each other with technical questions.