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Wildlife sightings app crowdsources for conservation

30 July 2015 | Natalie White Facebook Twitter Google+ Pinterest

Small acts when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world - Howard Zinn


Imagine a space where conservation efforts can be crowdsourced. Picture technology that allows everyone to contribute to the scientific world with their own data. The development of a cutting edge conservation tool and social media device, Tracking the Wild, has turned a casual family game drive into part of a wildlife census. 

Citizen Science is a buzz term in the world of research. Advocating that it doesn’t just take ‘experts’ in a field to contribute to scientific investigation. With access to tracking devices for the average person being about as difficult as reaching into their pocket, anyone can assist in gathering data. As nature lovers we want to share our experiences in the great outdoors as part of relishing in them. Taking that timeous shot is a valuable part of living and re-living our moments. So why not take these instances of sharing and turn them into something that stretches further than our immediate friend group to the scientific realm?

In the world of conservation, the frequent tracking of animal life is vital. Today some of the best tracking tools are in our palms already – our mobile phones.  The problem with sharing wildlife sightings on ordinary social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is that although they assist us in sharing our moments, they do not harness any scientific potential from our photographs and statuses. They are also not regulated and can send sensitive information into the wrong hands.

Every time you share your wildlife sightings through Tracking the Wild, the data is sent directly to the world class Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town where it can be analysed and used to understand the distribution for various species.

Professor Les Underhill of the ADU explains the value of the app:

"Imagine trying to motivate that a species is of conservation concern if you do not have an up-to-date distribution map for the species. Ideally, one would like to have a distribution map that is based on records collected only in the past decade or less. This means that distribution data needs to be updated continuously. This is what this new app helps us to achieve. “

What’s more, the app controls which species can be tracked and which are too sensitive. It can also limit the location visibility of specific animals within a specific area or to specific user types, therefore providing a safer alternative to sharing such information on other platforms.

Conservation and the protection of the wildlife around us no longer falls under the exclusive job of the employees of national parks and environmental protection organisations. Everyone can now make their contribution to the animal demography database.

So, next time you are taking animal snaps, try out Tracking the Wild.


Although the app is currently focused on Southern African sightings, there are plans to expand the app’s footprint across the rest of Africa and then globally.

Download the free Tracking the Wild iPhone or Android app


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