The Art of Tracking may well be the origin of science. After hundreds of thousands of years, traditional tracking skills may soon be lost. Yet tracking can be developed into a new science with far-reaching implications for indigenous communities, citizen science and nature conservation.
Creating employment opportunities for trackers provides economic benefits to indigenous communities. In addition, non-literate trackers who have in the past been employed as unskilled labourers can gain recognition for their specialised expertise.
The employment of trackers will also help to retain traditional skills which may otherwise be lost in the near future. This has cultural significance in that communities will be able to make a unique contribution to conservation. This will create a sense of cultural ownership of conservation, which may well be one of the most important contributions traditional tracking can make.
Some of the most important applications of tracking would be in controlling poaching, in ecotourism, in environmental education and in scientific research.
Expert trackers can give valuable assistance to researchers studying animal behaviour. Apart from knowledge based on direct observations of animals, trackers gain a detailed understanding of animal behaviour through the interpretation of tracks and signs. In this way much information can be obtained that would otherwise remain unknown, especially on the behaviour of rare or nocturnal animals that are not often seen.
Furthermore, tracks and signs offer information on undisturbed, natural behaviour, while direct observations often influences the animal by the mere presence of the observer. Tracking is therefore a non-invasive method of information gathering, in which potential stress caused to animals can be minimised.
Combining traditional tracking with modern technology, such as radio tracking, may enable the researcher to accomplish much more than either method could accomplish on its own.
The employment of trackers in research would require the highest level of expertise in spoor interpretation. To interpret spoor the tracker must have a sophisticated understanding of animal behaviour. Individual trackers may also specialise in particular species. There is in principle no limit to the level of sophistication to which a tracker can develop his or her expertise. Furthermore, knowledge gained from scientific literature could also be used to develop a tracker’s understanding of animal behaviour.
The CyberTracker field computer system will enhance the value of trackers and develop the art of tracking into a new science with many practical applications in nature conservation and wildlife management