Magazine article International Trade Forum

CyberTrackers of the Kalahan

Magazine article International Trade Forum

CyberTrackers of the Kalahan

Article excerpt

In this award-winning business case, technology opens new job opportunities and allows Bushmen to share their valuable knowledge to conserve the environment.

That indispensable electronic tool of every rising young executive, the personal digital assistant (PDA), has been matched to the traditional knowledge of the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert to give Africa a new profession: digital wildlife tracker.

The high-tech wildlife trackers have been used against poachers, in ecotourism, environmental education, research and monitoring. The free software that links up traditional knowledge to electronic data mapping has been applied around the world to social surveys, organic farming, integrated pest management and disaster relief.

Capturing skills

The new profession sprang from the work of Louis Liebenberg, a South African conservation scientist who learned tracking from bow-and-arrow hunters in Botswana. He recognized the importance of their skills and knowledge for conservation - and how little it was valued by protection authorities, partly because the Bushmen could not read or write.

With former University of Cape Town computer scientist Justin Steventon, Mr liebenberg developed a hand-held computer and software to capture their knowledge. He called the system CyberTracker. The computer displays a palette of symbols representing more than 40 animal species, subspecies and plants. The icons also cover activities such as drinking, feeding, running, fighting, mating and sleeping. Pressing an icon records a sighting or other indications. Each screen allows the user to record increasingly detailed information. They found that one tracker might record up to 300 observations in a day.

Connected to a satellite navigational system in 1996, the hand-held computer automatically recorded the details, time, date and exact location. …

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