The exceptional skills of indigenous Kalahari San Master Trackers may soon be lost. It is crucial that the last remaining Master Trackers in the Kalahari are identified and that a programme of employment creation be initiated in order to ensure that their invaluable expertise is passed on to the younger generation and trackers from around the world.

Louis has been working with Kalahari San Master Trackers since 1985. Over this period about 90% of these Master Trackers have passed away. However, he estimates that there may be more than 100 Master Trackers in the Kalahari who have not yet been identified and certified. This may be one of the largest living populations of traditional Master Trackers alive and may therefore be an invaluable resource for nature conservation worldwide.

The Kalahari San are genetically the oldest modern people and the art of tracking may be the origin of science, representing a continuous tradition that goes back more than 100 000 years (See Louis’s book ‘ The Origin of Science’). Their tracking skills are a vital source of information about human evolution, and science would suffer a permanent and irreplaceable loss if they vanished.

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.

Over the last twenty years Louis has developed the CyberTracker Tracker Certification system which has gained international recognition for maintaining the highest standards in tracking skills. More than 5000 tracker certificates have been issued worldwide, including Tracker Levels I, II, III, Professional Tracker, Senior Tracker and Master Tracker. The success of the CyberTracker certification has resulted in a growing number of tracker training centres around the world. However, there is a critical shortage of Master Trackers who can provide the highest levels of tracker training to the new generation of trackers. At present there are only 10 certified Master Trackers worldwide.

The Master Tracker Programme will develop the highest standards of excellence in the art of tracking. The programme will combine academic research and practical tracking skills to implement a rigorous scientific peer review process to develop the future generations of Master Trackers.

Objectives for First Three Years

The main objective is to create employment opportunities for indigenous San Master Trackers in the Kalahari to ensure that tracking skills will not die out. A key problem is that potential employers do not know who the true Master Trackers are or where to find them. To overcome this problem, we need to identify the best indigenous trackers and issue them with Master Tracker certificates so that they can be provided with employment.

  1. In the first three years we will aim to provide 50 to 100 Master Tracker certificates to indigenous San trackers in the Kalahari in Namibia and Botswana.
  2. Identify young trackers who are reasonably fluent in English to act as translators for elder Master Trackers, and who may be mentored to become the next generation of trackers.
  3. Develop a network of tour guides who can conduct expeditions to the Kalahari in order to create jobs for trackers.
  4. Promote potential job creation by the Wildlife departments of Namibia and Botswana to employ trackers on a full-time basis in nature conservation.
  5. Promote employment of Master Trackers in scientific research, such as the Tracking in Caves project, wildlife surveys using animal track counts and scientific research on animal behaviour.

Broader socio-economic benefits

Document the process, including the social dynamics within the communities. For example, any project that may provide an advantage to some individuals within a community may inadvertently cause resentment among individuals who feel that they do not benefit from the project. We therefore need to be sensitive to how the project can have a larger benefit to the community as a whole, and how these benefits can be communicated to the community.

For example, creating jobs for Master Trackers will bring tour groups to the villages, where they may buy crafts made by the women. In addition to creating direct jobs for trackers, additional economic benefits can also be created for the women. We need to think about how we can create additional socio-economic benefits to the community as a whole.

Long Term Objectives

Master Trackers employed in the Kalahari will conduct ongoing wildlife monitoring and mentor trackers from other parts of the world. Since bow hunting (and therefore the real need to track) is now banned in Botswana, Master Trackers need to be taught new skills so that they can be employed to do wildlife monitoring, animal track surveys and work with scientists conducting research on animal
behaviour. These skills include the use of the CyberTracker software to record their observations in the field. In Namibia there are still a number of trackers who hunt with the traditional bow-and-arrow. This provides the unique opportunity to maintain traditional bow-and-arrow hunting and tracking skills as well as developing new skills in using the CyberTracker software for wildlife monitoring.
Only by developing a rigorous scientific research programme will Master Tracker skills be retained and developed into the future.

Louis Liebenberg
Co-Founder and Executive Director: CyberTracker Conservation NPC Associate of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University Laureate of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise
Author: The Origin of Science (2013) and The Art of Tracking (1990)