Friday, 30 September 2022


The CyberTracker Story




Video: CNN Rolex Call to Earth - Indigenous Trackers are Teaching Scientists about Wildlife

By 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 and citizen science.

Video: On Tracking

Video: The History of CyberTracker

Born to Run

Persistence hunting may have played a crucial role in the evolution of the art of tracking. It may well be one of the oldest forms of hunting, practiced long before humans invented bows and arrows.

I ran the persistence hunt with !Nate at Lone Tree in the Kalahari, running down a kudu in the mid-day heat on an extremely hot day – chasing the antelope until it dropped from heat exhaustion. 

Video: BBC Earth - The Persistence Hunt 


Reviving the Dying Art of Tracking

In 1990 !Nate asked me to help them. 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 after hundreds of thousands of years, traditional tracking skills was dying out. Yet tracking can be developed into a new science with far-reaching implications for nature conservation.


After discussions around the fire, it was decided that we 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. 

The CyberTracker Tracker Certification enables trackers to get jobs in ecotourism, as rangers in anti-poaching units, in wildlife monitoring and scientific research. Tracker certification have since 1994 resulted in increasing levels of tracking skills in Africa, USA and Europe, thereby reviving tracking as a modern profession.

CyberTracker Software for Oralate Trackers

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 indigenous trackers in Africa cannot read or write.


Video: CNN Rolex Call to Earth - Indigenous Trackers are Teaching Scientists about Wildlife

The CyberTracker Icon User Interface for oralate (non-literate) trackers was developed in 1996 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 oralate trackers, confirming a hypothesis about rhino feeding behaviour put forward by the trackers. It was a demonstration that oralate trackers can do science.

Video: Tracking in the Cyber Age

In addition to projects with Kalahari San trackers, CyberTracker projects have also been initiated with indigenous communities in Australia, Canada, South America and other parts of the world. Involving scientists and local communities in key areas of biodiversity, CyberTracker combines indigenous knowledge with state-of-the-art computer and satellite technology.

Video: Rolex Awards 1998 - CyberTracker

Towards an Inclusive Tracking Science

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 one the last hunters who has been doing the persistence hunt. Yet of all the hunters at Lone Tree, 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.

Radio Interview: Big Picture Science – Your Inner Lab Coat


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.

Video: Mark Elbroch - Tracker, Biologist, Scientist

Essay: Tracking Science: An Alternative for Those Excluded by Citizen Science

Preventing Human Outbreaks of Ebola

A significant potential value of long term biodiversity monitoring by communities is that outbreaks of infectious diseases may be detected in time to avert the tragic loss of human lives.


The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has resulted in huge cost in human lives and economic losses. In future it may be more cost-effective to monitor signs of potential outbreaks of Ebola among wildlife, especially along trade routes that may spread Ebola to highly populated areas.

During the Ebola outbreaks in Gabon and the Republic of Congo from 2001 to 2003 CyberTracker data showed a significant drop in animal numbers by monitoring signs of gorilla, chimpanzee, duiker and bush pig. Wild animal outbreaks began before each of the five human Ebola outbreaks. Twice it was possible to alert the health authorities to an imminent risk for human outbreaks, weeks before they occurred.

Video: Cross River Gorilla Conservation

Science and Environmental Education in Elementary, Primary and Secondary Schools

The NatureMapping Program and BioKIDS have been using CyberTracker in elementary, primary and secondary schools in the USA for science and environmental education. Data collection is a core component of the science curriculum.


BioKIDS is a unique science education program that teaches students to be better observers and places emphasis on critical thinking skills. Students gather data on living things in their schoolyard, upload the data to a central server, then get reports on the combined data for further analysis as part of the curriculum. This facilitates exploration of local biodiversity using advanced technologies as tools for research and learning. 

Students Collecting Field Data for MSc and PhD Theses

Graduate students worldwide are using CyberTracker to collect field data for their MSc and PhD theses. We received a beautiful thank-you letter from PhD student Sarah Dwyer, who wrote that: "I wanted to share a recent publication with you about bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand. I used CyberTracker for 3 years of boat-based data collection for my PhD project that I am in the final stages of writing up now. Thanks for all the hard work you do to enable students like me to use the software for free :-)"

Scientific Research

CyberTracker makes it possible to gather rich field data for scientific research. 

A scientific paper, co-authored by Justin Steventon, outlines an Animal Counting Toolkit to survey coastal marine mammals (see Further Reading below). 

In Kruger National Park, for example, data collected by rangers using CyberTracker devices paint an accurate and detailed picture of alien plant distributions. The Kruger National Park CyberTracker database presents a unique spatial data set, covering an extensive area. The full richness of the data set will only emerge over time as the data are explored from a number of perspectives.

Another example that demonstrates CyberTracker as an invaluable tool for scientific research incorporated behavioural data into the selection of marine protected areas for an endangered killer whale population.

Video: Using CyberTracker Systems in Wildlife Research

National Parks and Protected Areas

CyberTracker is is widely used in protected areas around the world. The potential richness and complexity of data that trackers can gather is illustrated by the range of data collected in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.


Field rangers contribute directly to the management of the park by collecting basic environmental data during their daily patrols. Information such as the distribution of rare and endangered species, availability of surface water and disease outbreaks are integral in the ongoing management of the park. These indicators are used by park managers to provide an early warning system for disease outbreaks, identify trends in illegal exit and entry points, and enable the control of invasive alien species.

It is now possible to track and accurately map poacher movements. In this way patterns can be established and plotted on maps. This helps to plan preventative operations.

Scientists use the collected data to facilitate research and assist in making informed management decisions regarding rare species monitoring, fire mapping and ecosystem interactions. 

Community Forest Management

CyberTracker is used for mapping community and forest boundaries. It also makes the process of data acquisition easier on sample plots, carbon pools and on community forest management systems and types and sources of degradation, which are essential to the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) approach.


CyberTracker has demonstrated the potential to involve local communities' knowledge as they contribute to the design of the applications, as well as the choice of icons and queries to facilitate and speed the process of data capture.

Projects have demonstrated the potential for using CyberTracker for mapping and visualising of Community Forest management in the context of REDD. 

The World Agroforestry Centre have been using CyberTracker in about 30,000 plots in about 30 countries globally. Senior Scientist Dr. Tor-G Vagen said that:

"I downloaded CyberTracker in 2008 and just started using it right away. I have not required any tech support, so I would say it is very easy to get it up and running, and most importantly deploying it in the field has been trouble-free."


Organic farming is becoming increasingly important for long-term sustainability of food production. In contrast to conventional farming, organic farming minimizes the impact of food production on the environment. One of the challenges of organic farming is the increased complexity of natural variables.


In particular, Integrated Pest Management involves gathering data on pests as well as natural predators that control pests on a continuous basis throughout the fruiting season. CyberTracker makes it possible to gather large quantities of detailed data on an ongoing basis.

Our Vision of a Worldwide Environmental Monitoring Network

From its origins with the Kalahari trackers, CyberTracker projects have been initiated to protect rhinos in Africa, to monitor gorillas in the Congo, snow leopards in the Himalayas, butterflies in Switzerland, 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 and crime prevention.

Climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity may have serious impacts on human welfare. To anticipate and prevent negative impacts will require ongoing long-term monitoring of all aspects of the environment. Our ultimate vision is that Smartphone users worldwide will use CyberTracker to capture observations on a daily basis. Data streaming into the Cloud will make it possible to visualise changes in the global ecosystem in real time.

worldmap yellowdots


World Map image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Further Reading

The Origin of Science

Liebenberg, Louis. 2013. Tracking Science: The Origin of Scientific Thinking in Our Paleolithic Ancestors. Skeptic Magazine. Vol. 18. No. 3.

Liebenberg, Louis. 2013. The Origin of Science. Cape Town: CyberTracker.

Liebenberg, Louis. 1990. The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science. Cape Town: David Philip Publishers.

Born to Run 

Conniff, Richard. 2008. Yes, You Were Born to Run. Men's Health.

Liebenberg, Louis. 2006. Persistence Hunting by Modern Hunter-Gatherers, Current Anthropology. 47:5.

Liebenberg, Louis. 2008. The Relevance of Persistence Hunting to Human Evolution, Journal of Human Evolution. 55, 1156-1159.

Reviving the Dying Art of Tracking

Biesele, Megan and Steve Barclay. 2001. Ju/'hoan Women's Tracking Knowledge and its Contribution to their Husbands' Hunting Success. African Studies Monographs, Suppl.26: 67-84, March 2001.

Cunliffe, Stephen. 2013. Tracking with a Master. Africa Geographic.

CyberTracker Tracker Certification

CyberTracker Software for Non-literate Trackers

Ansell, Shuan and Jennifer Koening. 2011. CyberTracker: An integral management tool used by rangers in the Djelk Indigenous Protected Area, central Arnhem Land, Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration. Vol. 12 No 1 April 2011.

Du Plessis, Pierre. 2010. Tracking Knowledge: Science, Tracking and Technology.

Ens, E.J. 2012. Monitoring Outcomes of Environmental Service Provision in Low Socio-economic Indigenous Australia Using Innovative CyberTracker Technology. Conservation and Society 10(1): 42-52, 2012

Liebenberg, L., et al., 2016. Smartphone Icon User Interface design for non-literate trackers and its implications for an inclusive citizen science, Biological Conservation, 208 (2017) 155–162

Liebenberg, Louis, Lindsay Steventon, Karel Benadie and James Minye. 1999. Rhino Tracking with the CyberTracker Field Computer. Pachyderm, Number 27.

Liebenberg, Louis, Edwin Blake, Lindsay Steventon, Karel Benadie and James Minye. 1998. Integrating Traditional Knowledge with Computer Science for the Conservation of Biodiversity. Paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies, Osaka, Japan, October 1998.

Liebenberg, Louis. 2011. The Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor Project.

Logie, Christopher. 2010. The Literacy of Tracking: A comparative analysis of tracking within two Bushman post-hunter communities.

Mayes, Simon. 2002. CyberTracker Applications in Namibia.

NAILSMA. 2015. Looking After Country: The NAILSMA I-Tracker Story. 

Towards an Inclusive Tracking Science

Liebenberg, L., //Ao, . /Am ., Lombard, M., Shermer, M., Xhukwe, . /Uase ., Biesele, M., //xao, D., Carruthers, P., Kxao, . ≠Oma ., Hansson, S.O., Langwane, H. (Karoha) ., Elbroch, L.M., /Ui, N., Keeping, D., Humphrey, G., Newman, G., G/aq’o, . /Ui ., Steventon, J., Kashe, N., Stevenson, R., Benadie, K., du Plessis, P., Minye, J., /Kxunta, . /Ui ., Ludwig, B., Daqm, . ≠Oma ., Louw, M., Debe, D. and Voysey, M., 2021. Tracking Science: An Alternative for Those Excluded by Citizen Science. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 6(1), p.6. DOI:

Liebenberg, Louis. 2015. Citizen science: creating an inclusive, global network for conservation. The Guardian.

Liebenberg, L., et al., 2016. Smartphone Icon User Interface design for non-literate trackers and its implications for an inclusive citizen science, Biological Conservation. 208 (2017) 155–162.

MARK ELBROCH, TUYENI H. MWAMPAMBA, MARIA J. SANTOS, MAXINE ZYLBERBERG, LOUIS LIEBENBERG, JAMES MINYE, CHRISTOPHER MOSSER, and ERIN REDDY. 2011. The Value, Limitations, and Challenges of Employing Local Experts in Conservation Research. Conservation Biology. 25 (6), 1195-1202.

Citizen Science in Ecology: the Intersection of Research and Education. Author(s): Christopher A. Lepczyk, Owen D. Boyle, Timothy L. Vargo, Philip Gould, Rebecca Jordan, Louis Liebenberg, Susanne Masi, William P. Mueller, Michelle D. Prysby and Hague Vaughan. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, Vol. 90, No. 3 (July 2009), pp. 308-317

Silvertown, Jonathan. 2009. A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.24 No.9.

Preventing Human Outbreaks of Ebola

Rouquet, Pierre, Jean-Marc Froment, Magdalena Bermejo, Annelisa Kilbourn, William Karesh, Patricia Reed, Brice Kumulungui, Philippe Yaba, André Délicat, Pierre E. Rollin, and Eric M. Leroy. 2005. Wild Animal Mortality Monitoring and Human Ebola Outbreaks, Gabon and Republic of Congo, 2001–2003. Emerging Infectious Diseases • • Vol. 11, No. 2, February 2005 

Science and Environmental Education in Elementary, Primary and Secondary Schools



Cynthia Sims Parr, Tricia Jones and Nancy Butler Songer. CyberTracker in BioKIDS: Customization of a PDA-based scientific data collection application for inquiry learning. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

Scientific Research

Rob Williams, Erin Ashe, Katie Gaut, Rowenna Gryba, Jeffrey E. Moore, Eric Rexstad, Doug Sandilands, Justin Steventon, Randall R. Reeves. 2017. Animal Counting Toolkit: a practical guide to small-boat surveys for estimating abundance of coastal marine mammals. Endang Species Res.

Ashe,E., D. P. Noren & R. Williams. 2009. Animal behaviour and marine protected areas: incorporating behavioural data into the selection of marine protected areas for an endangered killer whale population. Animal Conservation 13 (2010) 196–203.

Foxcroft, Llewellyn C.,David M. Richardson, Mathieu Rouget and Sandra MacFadyen. 2009. Patterns of alien plant distribution at multiple spatial scales in a large national park: implications for ecology, management and monitoring. Diversity and Distributions, 15, 367–378.

National Parks and Protected Areas

Using technology in the fight against rhino poaching.

SMART Conservation Partnership

Bergl, Richard, Andrew Dunn, and Aaron Nicholas. 2009. AFRICA'S MOST ENDANGERED APE: Using Technology and Partnerships to Save the Critically Endangered Cross River Gorilla. CONNECT.

Kruger,Judith M. and Sandra MacFadyen. 2011. Science support within the South African National Parks adaptive management framework. Koedoe 53(2).

LEFRANC, HUGUES, REGINO NÚÑEZ & JUSTIN STEVENTON. 2009. NEW TECHNOLOGIES FOR LONG-TERM BIODIVERSITY MONITORING. In C. Hurford, M. Schneider & I. Cowx (eds.), Conservation Monitoring in Freshwater Habitats. Springer.

Cybertracker Monitoring Program in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas

CyberTracker Monitoring Programme. 2007. EC Grant Contract—External Aid Contract ref. nr.: B7-6200/02/0407/TF

Community Forest Management

Peters-Guarin, Graciela and Michael K. McCall. 2010. Community Carbon Forestry (CCF) for REDD Using CyberTracker for Mapping and Visualising of Community Forest Management in the Context of REDD.


De Villiers, M & K.L. Pringle. 2007. Seasonal occurrence of vine pests in commercially treated vineyards in the Hex River Valley in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. African Entomology 15(2): 241–260.