Putting Powerful Snow Leopard Tracking Technology in the Hands of Rangers & Local Communities
The Snow Leopard Conservancy joined forces with CyberTracker in 2006 to develop a simple icon-based system using a hand-held Personal Digital Assistant device (PDA) and software application for enabling local people to monitor and record information on snow leopards, their prey and habitat. Louis Liebenberg, the originator of the innovative CyberTracker tracking system, and Rodney Jackson, founder-director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, both won Rolex Awards for Enterprise—Jackson in 1981 and Liebenberg in 1998. Coincidentally, besides their common interest in tracking animals and the sign they leave in the environment, both were born in South Africa.
Over the past decade Louis’s innovative software has begun to revolutionize conservation and wildlife management. His device, which enabled Africa’s Bushmen to preserve their legendary yet vanishing tracking skills, also turned their unrivalled traditional knowledge of the Kalahari Desert to helping protect the region’s unique biodiversity (see www.cybertracker.org).
CyberTracker is now routinely used by park rangers to document anti-poaching patrols and improve the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols and site-based conservation activities across the globe, as exemplified by the SMART standard protocol: http://smartconservationtools.org/
Tracking Snow Leopards: Biologists and even villagers in Ladakh, Northern India and Mustang, Nepal have found it easy to record field observations by selecting icons, pictures or symbols (with minimal text), then storing the resulting geographically referenced observations for future download. However, we encountered several significant challenges to this technology, including:
Slow, unreliable GPS chips that experienced some difficulty locking onto satellites, especially in rugged Himalayan mountain environment;
Extremely limited battery life and unstable memory capacity of the available PDA’s like PalmPilot;
Some users required special trainings, including periodic refresher courses and select incentives;
Downloading observations into the server or computer host proved complex and demanding. It also required reliable access to WiFi and the internet, along with a savvy IT person for managing multiple PDA’s and continually growing data base.
Handheld field devices have evolved significantly in terms of capability and functionality, along with internet access becoming more available in the remote snow leopard range. In 2014 Holger Röhle, a registered trainer of CyberTracker based in Germany helped transfer SLC’s Snow Leopard app to the more user-friendly Android platform. It can now be deployed on Smartphones and tablets, all of which have much more efficient GPS chips and long-lived batteries, along with other attributes making data-collection and storage easier. In addition, many other Apps and customized wildlife observations templates are now also available, including iNature or ESRI’s Survey123 which is being used by the Land of the Snow Leopard network users in Central Asia.
Under the Snow Leopard Information Management System (SLIMS) protocol, biologists and rangers can easily record sightings of animals or their sign along fixed transects (e.g., trails used by snow leopard for social communication and scent marking between individuals occupying a common area) to documenting locations of depredation incidents and the predator responsible, following the standardized SLIMS methodology developed by Jackson and Hunter (see Jackson, R. and Hunter, D.O. 1996. Snow Leopard Survey and Conservation Handbook. International Snow Leopard Trust, Seattle, and U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, 154 pages + appendices).
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in using SLC’s version of CyberTracker and we can arrange to provide you with instructions for downloading and using this software package. The basic SLIMS survey method has now been replaced by the use of camera traps to document snow leopard presence/absence, along with non-invasive collection and analysis of scats for determining gender and individual identification in samples where DNA has not been adversely degraded. If you are conducting an Occupancy Survey, then the Snow Leopard (SLIMS) App may be of interest to you, especially if you wish to move beyond paper-only forms. But be sure to base your observations on definitive sign such as scrapes, scent-sprays, well defined tracks (pugmarks) or visual sightings and not simply on scats (since these can be reliably allocated to a particular species in the absence of genotyping).
In April 2016, Holger introduced CyberTracker and SLIMS to participants of the GSLEP (Global Snow Leopard Environment Plan) Landscape Management Planning Workshop that was held in Kathmandu and attended by government officials and NGO representatives from each range state. The GSLEP aimed to protect and secure 20 Snow Leopard Landscapes by the Year 2020. If you wish to learn more about CyberTracker, we invite you to contact Holger at: email@example.com
For more information about Surveying Snow Leopard Populations, click here.