Due to rapid urbanisation and the legacy of apartheid’s of forced removals, traditional tracking skills have fast disappeared over the last 50 years.
Wildlife tracking is an indigenous art form that evolved for reasons of human survival. It has often misrepresented as an unexplainable and mystical skill possessed only by a privileged few. This misconception has delayed the formal adoption of tracking as a valuable conservation management skillset that can be professionally trained and evaluated.
The vision is for highly trained professional trackers to provide for global environmental needs. These include eco-tourism, animal monitoring and habituation, conservation education and wildlife protection.
Tracker Academy aims to prove that ancient tracking skills are relevant in modern conservation management efforts.
2011: Formal programme accreditation, CATHSSETA
Tracker Academy embarked on the lengthy but worthwhile process of becoming the first-ever tracker training school to receive formal accreditation by the Sector Education Training Authority, CATHSSETA, which it received in 2012. The has resulted in improved academic integrity of our training programme as well as credibility as a legitimate tracker training provider.
2012: Jaguar habituation, Brazil
Tracker Academy deployed two graduates to the Pantanal region of Brazil to track, find and form a relationship with a population of jaguars at Caiman Ecological Refuge. The aim of the project is to assist the reserve to improve its sightings of jaguars, and to understand their movements and distribution. The project has been an overwhelming success, with over 75% of the Caiman guests seeing an elusive jaguar since the trackers began their work. The project has now been handed over to Caiman.
2013: Malawi – African Parks Network: Black rhino monitoring
Renias Mhlongo and Alex van den Heever trained and evaluated eight black rhino monitors at Majete Wildlife Reserve. The Park is managed by African Parks Network. The tracker candidates ultimately performed well in their final evaluation – with one monitor scoring 100% (Level 4, Advanced) for the trailing component.
2013: Eastern Cape: Animal monitoring
Two Tracker Academy graduates were deployed to an animal monitoring project in the Western Region of the East Cape Province to better understand the predator-prey relationship between jackal and springbok, the results of which will have a direct impact on the regional economy.
2013: Lead Tracker – Train the trainer
Having been in operation for 6 years , Tracker Academy took the decision to invest in developing future master trackers. Five top-performing graduates were identified and enrolled on a long-term mentorship programme. Trackers selected for this programme include Robert Hlatshwayo, Norman Chauke, Innocent Ngwenya, Richard Mthabine and Ivan Buregoo. From this initiative evolved the Lead Tracker programme which represents the highest measurable certification of a tracker by Tracker Academy. Lead Tracker is an accredited NQF4 skills programme and is endorsed by FGASA. The course includes a five-week training curriculum followed by two weeks of intensive practical tracking assessments. In the past seven years, ten trackers have been certified as Lead Trackers. Tracker Academy is very proud of its standards of Lead Tracker training and assessment.
2014: K9 Conservation
Tracker Academy deployed trackers for further training in the handling of security (tracker) dogs. The projects aims to create tracker-dog tracker teams to improve wildlife protection efforts.
2015: Leopard habituation – Marataba Game Reserve, South Africa
Four tracker graduates were deployed to Marataba Game Reserve in the North-West to habituate leopards for the benefit of ecotourism. The trackers were tremendously successful in tracking and finding several individual leopards over a two year period. Trackers complete daily logbooks to record and measure the success of the project. The project has now been handed over to Marataba.
2016: Field Ranger training – SA Wildlife College
Following the spike in rhino poaching in Southern Africa since in 2008, Tracker Academy has received numerous requests for its trackers to be deployed in anti-poaching units. Enabled by donors from the United States, we formed a partnership with the SA Wildlife College to further train a small number of carefully selected tracker graduates in the skills of armed field rangers. The 8-week course is seen as a ‘specialisation’ for the trackers – effectively to equip them with the skills necessary to conduct operations in anti-poaching and wildlife protection.
2016: WildlifeAct, Animal Monitoring
WildlifeAct is a private animal monitoring company that operates widely throughout Southern Africa. Tracker Academy formed a working relationship with WildlifeAct to provide tracker graduates to assist it with data collection for its research projects. Trackers gather information through animal sign detection and interpretation. This project represents a stern test of the quality of our ‘track and sign’ identification training, and the associated observer reliability required for research.
2017: Tracker Manual
When Tracker Academy began its training efforts in 2010, no formal training curriculum or learning materials existed, with the exception of publicly available field guides. Trainers, Alex van den Heever, Karel Benadie and Renias Mhlongo collaborated in writing an in-house text book for the students. The Tracker Manual was ultimately published by Struik Nature and is now available in most leading book stores for the general public. The manual contains a significant portion of the training content taught at Tracker Academy. An updated version, with specific reference to the application of tracking skills in conservation management, will be produced by 2022.
2018: Leopard habituation, Akagera National Park, Rwanda
Wilderness Safaris approached Tracker Academy to deploy trackers to habituate a population of leopards at their newly established Magashi concession in Akagera National Park in Rwanda. Trackers spent 18 months trailing, identifying and monitoring leopards. A total of 14 individuals were identified by their tracks – with the assistance of direct and camera trap observations. Wilderness Safaris have reported excellent leopard sightings since the project began operation.
2019: Wildlife Tracker App
In a partnership between Peace Parks Foundation and Tracker Academy, together a professional coder, the team has developed a web-based application that houses an algorithm which automatically identifies animal tracks and signs. The App is currently in beta mode and being tested. Through machine learning (artificial intelligence) the App gets ‘smarter’ with more data that is uploaded to the system. This is a developing project and Tracker Academy will announce its plans for the App in 2021.
2020: Fossil tracks, South Cape coast
Representing the Tracker Academy, Alex van den Heever co-authored a scientific paper indicating the presence of large reptiles (crocodile) along the south Cape coastline of South Africa. Alex and his co-authors studied several ancient examples of animal tracks in that region. Track evidence was recorded from the middle stone age period some 100,000 years ago. The paper was ultimately published in the South African Journal of Science in March 2020. The body of fossil record still requires further research, with which Tracker Academy will continue to assist. Following the research, Cape Nature has enrolled tracker candidates to be professionally trained to locate more fossil animal tracks along the Cape coastline. See more…
2020: Leopard habituation, Lapalala Game Reserve
Lapalala Game Reserve approached Tracker Academy to deploy trackers to habituate a population of leopards in the Waterberg region of Limpopo province. Two trackers have been deployed to track and monitor leopards for the purposes of research and ecotourism. The project is managed jointly by Lapalala and Tracker Academy. An update of this project shall be provided at the end of 2020.
- Puma habituation project in Patagonia, Chile
- Aboriginal field ranger tracker training, Australia
- Field guide to plant medicinal purposes of the Karoo, South Africa.