In the African bush – every moment is a gamble. Those of us who’ve been there know the excitement of suddenly coming across a monumental elephant, or that heart-stopping moment when you spy a flash of spots on a golden canvas. It’s all a bit of a treasure hunt really – but what if someone could give you a map to all the needles in the haystack?
A new trend, flooding the likes of game reserves, national parks and wildlife conservations is the use of sightings apps. These apps allow visitors who are currently on safari – be they guests or rangers – to report the animals and events that they are seeing… Live, in real time! The crowd-sourced data is then then displayed like an interactive map or Twitter-like newsfeed.
This information is then publicly accessible from any web browser – desktop, mobile or tablet – granted that you have mobile signal or internet access.
But what does this mean for the safari experience?
The introducing the use of this kind of technology, the safari experience is enhanced, by enabling visitors to go directly to the location of interesting sightings. This is especially nifty for foreign tourists who’re in for a fly-in express safari who come all the way to South Africa expecting to see the Big Five in one visit. But is this not cheating?
Those of us who have experienced the ‘real’ African bush know that there is a manner of ‘bush etiquette’ that you need to abide by. This stands for general respect; for the environment around you, for the animals in their natural habitat, and for other visitors trying to enjoy the same experience as you.
Coming across wild animals in their natural environment is an exhilarating experience. You never know what’ll be around the next turn or spied in the dry river bed. Your eyes sit wide, you’re on the edge of your seat, the anticipation tantalising. Is this not what the experience is all about?
These tracker apps do have their benefits in support of conservation. Much of the information gathered can be used by researched for habitat, breeding, population and behaviour data.
This information can also be used specifically for wildlife conservation. If a report of a snared animal or suspicious activity is received, it gets to the appropriate authorities immediately. The results are clear – and so far, the Latest Sightings app has already been integral in the saving rhinos, hyenas, wild dogs and lions who have been injured by poachers. BUT, before we get any angry naysayers – rhino sighting are NEVER published due to poaching implications. We do not take this situation lightly.
Other apps like HerdTracker contribute directly towards research projects like the Wild Dog Project, the Ground Hornbill project, the Leopard Identification project, and for some Pangolin and Bat projects.
Another app – Sightings Tracker – even offers you a huge database of information on your device to help you identify, learn about and track different animals.
Herd Tracker was launched to track the movement of the wildebeest migration in real-time. allowing travellers to follow the herd’s location accurately.
On top of it – the app uses the users GPS location to calculate the distance between the migrating herds and various lodges and camps in Kenya and Tanzania, the Serengeti and Masai Mara. These are then regularly updated, with calendars showing live room-availability for each camp and lodge.
The benefits are obvious – yes. But is this the true safari experience or just an open-plan zoo?
Game viewing is all a game of chance and timing. Travellers will often notify other vehicles of things that they have seen nearby, and sometime it might even be a case of a leopard giving birth in the middle of the road about 500 metres back – but by the time you get there (a mere minute or two later) – poof! It’s gone!
With the use of tracker apps, you still can’t guarantee that you’ll find the animal where it was reported. These creatures are built for camouflage and survival, and our non-predator eyesight doesn’t do us any favours either.
Other than missing some rare or wonderful sightings while you thunder off to a recent sighting, these reports are shown to increase driving speed towards an area. The speed limit in a game reserve is always minimal – yes, but it’s impossible to have a traffic cop and a speed camera on every corner.
Unfortunately, this has become a regular occurrence in the Serengeti National Park. The drivers of the game drive vehicles keep in radio contact and report sightings to each other of various things, but while you trundle along at thirty kilometres an hour, or have stopped to admire the grace of crowned crane (Tanzania’s national bird), a game viewing vehicle comes thundering past at 80 kilometres an hour. Scaring away what ever you were looking at, kicking up dust and stones, and damaging vehicles. Road kill is also a heart-wrenchingly common sight – something we shouldn’t be viewing in a game reserve. From birds to tortoises, springbok to cheetah. This is unacceptable in a region set aside to ‘protect’ these animals.
After the dust settling and finding your way to a near by sighting, the area is over crowded with up to 30 vehicles; all fighting for a view, driving on the wrong side of the road, driving off the road, and not letting others past. It’s a peak hour traffic nightmare. This is not why we escape to the bush!
Is the use of such apps going to spread this type of ‘bush etiquette’, or is it a necessary evil for the sake of conservation and tourism?
What do YOU think?
Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.