The CyberTracker Tracker Certification was initiated by Louis Liebenberg in 1994 in the Thornybush Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park and in 1995 in the southern Kalahari with the #Khomani San community.
Initially our aim was to establish a strong core of expert trackers, maintaining the highest standards. Over the years we have resisted pressure to lower our standards for the sake of getting more trackers certified. To lower standards at the start of this process would have jeopardised our core standards and would have made it difficult to maintain high standards within a broader context of inconsistent standards.
During the first 20 years we were able to focus on maintaining the highest standards, since there was no sense of urgency. Issues like climate change and population growth seemed very remote into the future. However, it is now becoming increasingly clear that climate change, population growth and the rapid loss of biodiversity are becoming increasingly urgent.
The world is experiencing a period of rapid environmental change linked to habitat change, pollution, and climate change. 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 information. Locally based monitoring is particularly important in developing countries, where it can empower local communities to manage their natural resources. Trackers can play a critical role in preventing poaching of endangered species such as rhino, elephant and tigers. Trackers can also be of great value for monitoring rare and endangered species.
Rhino and elephant poaching in Africa are out of control. Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, pangolins and a number of other species may well be driven into extinction. In Africa and Asia there is a critical shortage of trackers who can be employed in anti-poaching units. Protected areas may need more than one tracker per 2000 hectares (20 square kilometres) to bring poaching under control.
To monitor global changes in biodiversity and to bring poaching under control we may need hundreds of thousands of trackers worldwide.
Over the last thirty years traditional tracking skills in southern Africa have been lost at an alarming rate. About 90% of the Kalahari San Master Trackers have passed away, their knowledge and skills irretrievably lost. Meanwhile, the younger generation had no incentive to become expert trackers. Among hunter-gathers, the bow-and-arrow and persistence hunting have been abandoned as the use of dogs and horses were introduced. This has resulted in a decline in tracking skills.
At a time when traditional tracking skills are being lost we may require many thousands of certified trackers to monitor changes in the environment due to climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.
We need to re-assess our priorities for tracker certification and look at how we can accelerate the growth in the number of qualified trackers, but without compromising our standards. Over the first 20 years we have issued about 5000 certificates worldwide. To scale up from less than 5000 qualified trackers over the first 20 years to more than 100 000 trackers in the next 20 years, we need to introduce a learning process that will result in a rapid increase in the number of qualified trackers.
We now have a strong core of Senior Trackers and Evaluators, which allow us to now introduce new levels of certificates that will stimulate interest in tracking without compromising standards.
Our “gold standard” certificates in the CyberTracker Universal Tracker Certification are the Professional Tracker, Senior Tracker and Master Tracker. These are the certificates that should maintain a consistent and exceptionally high standard in order to develop tracking into a modern profession.
In order to stimulate the growth of the tracker community, we need to introduce new tracker certificates where the emphasis will be on an informal learning process.