Kalahari Tracker Project 2021: Ju/’hoan San Tracker School

2021: Ju/’hoan San Tracker School

25 May 2022

Introduction of the Ju/’hoan San Tracker School at Klein Dobe

The world is experiencing a period of rapid environmental change caused by climate change, habitat destruction and pollution. Monitoring biodiversity is critical for effective conservation management. There are too few professional ecologists to deal with the scale of environmental challenges. Furthermore, global biodiversity conservation is seriously challenged by gaps in the geographical coverage of existing data. Locally based monitoring is particularly important in developing countries, where it can empower local indigenous communities to manage their natural resources.

The exceptional skills of indigenous Kalahari San Master Trackers may soon be lost. These trackers represent a unique part of humanity’s cultural heritage and are an invaluable resource for nature conservation worldwide.

The Nyae Nyae Conservancy is the last area in the Kalahari where indigenous San hunter-gatherers can still legally hunt with the traditional bow-and-arrow. In 2018 only 15 hunters were still actively hunting. In lieu of these threats a group of community members of the Nyae Nyae Communal Conservancy established the Ju/’hoansi Trackers Association and Close Corporation in 2019.

The Mission of the Ju/’hoansi Trackers Association and School includes:

  1. To preserve and promote Kalahari San culture and skills, including ethical and sustainable traditional hunting and gathering practices.
  2. To develop innovative ways, roles and services that will help the Ju/’hoansi and other indigenous communities meet the challenge of modern times while
    respecting the best of their traditional values.
  3. Identify and mentor indigenous Kalahari San Master Trackers who can mentor a
    new generation of young trackers.
  4. Develop a core team of specialists who can provide technical, scientific and
    financial support to the Tracker School.
  5. Develop employment opportunities for trackers in the tourism, research, private
    sector and government APU and CBNRM sectors (to name a few) to ensure long term sustainability.
  6. Develop partnerships to expand the reach of the Tracker School.

The Ju/’hoan San Tracker School promotes a new modern indigenous culture that combines
indigenous knowledge and skills with modern science and technology. Activities at the Tracker School include Tracker Training and Certification as well as Research and Wildlife Monitoring.
The style of the Ju/’hoan Tracker School is designed to represent modern indigenous culture – the combination of indigenous and modern technology and skills. In this way it is different from the “Living Museum” concept.

The camps are designed to require minimal capital investment. Apart from the canvass tents and some basic equipment, the camp has been built and maintained by the community. The modern
indigenous style, which combines canvass dome tents with traditional grass huts is very attractive to the tracker visitor groups from America and Europe, who all responded very positively to the experience. As part of the modern indigenous style, tracker uniforms are a mix of khaki, light green, olive green, light grey, dark grey. This is so that they do not all look the same, but retain their individual personalities. Trackers should look different from field rangers which differentiates the Ju/’hoan Tracker School from the luxury lodge industry as well as the “Living Museum” type cultural experience.

Key certified Master Trackers play a critical role in the future of indigenous tracking skills of the Ju/’hoan San of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and even the Kalahari San in other parts of Namibia and Botswana. The Master Trackers conduct the training and evaluation of Ju/’hoan San community members, as well as other indigenous communities in Namibia, Botswana and other parts of the world. The Ju/’hoan San Tracker School plays a crucial role in revitalising tracking skills for indigenous communities worldwide.

We have identified 45 trackers who are the most experienced trackers and hunters in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. 10 Master Tracker certificates have been issued. We have a Master Tracke Training Team, consisting of /Ui G/aqo, /Ui /Kunta and Dam Debe, who can issue Tracker Certificates, based on the CyberTracker Tracker Certification system. The Master Tracker Training Team is currently mentoring 10 potential Master Trackers. The Training Team has also issued Tracker certificates Levels I to III to visiting trackers from Europe.

Two of the Master Trackers, /Ui G/aqo and /Ui /Kunta have travelled to France and Germany to interpret Palaeolithic Cave Art and to present their findings at an international science conference on Tracking and Palaeolithic Cave Art. The Master Tracker Training Team has also visited the Kruger National Park and the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.

Additionally, the Tracker School hosts groups from Europe and North America. These visitors are often experienced trackers who want to learn more about tracking. This is a tracker learning
experience which is much more advanced than the cultural experience at other cultural tourism

The Ju/’hoansi Trackers Association has been collaborating with CyberTracker since 2017. The CyberTracker software, which was originally developed for Kalahari Master Trackers in 1997, is playing an increasing role in environmental conservation worldwide, not just for trackers, but for scientific research, wildlife monitoring, conservation management and anti-poaching. The software, which is free, has been downloaded more than 500 000 times worldwide.

CyberTracker is now developing a custom-built CyberTracker Online for the Ju/’hoan Tracker School. New features will include the development of CyberTracker Online for simple Online Apps and backend database for community projects. It will include Story Maps, that will combine data in tables and maps, photos and videos to make the data come alive and tell the stories of the Nyae Nyae landscape. Once the new CyberTracker Online software has been field-tested at the Ju/’hoan Tracker School, it will be made available to indigenous communities worldwide.

The Nyae Nyae Conservancy in the Kalahari, north-east Namibia, presents an opportunity to develop a conservation programme in one of the last true wilderness areas that can have far-reaching implications for indigenous communities and biodiversity conservation worldwide. The largest elephant population in Namibia is found in Nyae Nyae and the adjacent Khaudum National Park. Highly endangered species include the African Wild Dog, Cheetah and Pangolin, while Lion and Leopard also requires increased protection in the wild.