Traditional owners use electronic software to record environmental and cultural information

Aboriginal groups across central and northern Australia have embraced the use of Cybertracker software to capture environmental and cultural information.

With Rangelands NRM funding through the Caring for our Country (CfoC) program, the Desert Rangelands project has adopted Cybertracker to capture land management information across the 32 million hectare project area.

Cybertracker is a freeware program developed in South Africa in the mid 1990s to harness the tracking knowledge of indigenous peoples, and was first created to record the movements of the endangered black rhino.  Cybertracker Conservation is now a worldwide non-profit organization that encourages communities and individuals to monitor their own environment.

Department of Environment and Conservation’s desert rangelands conservation officer Alison McGilvray said the Desert Rangelands project has developed Cybertracker sequences to capture information on fauna monitoring, prescribed burning, waterhole monitoring, cultural information and opportunistic information – for example, weed infestations and sign of threatened and invasive fauna.

“Cybertracker limits the use of text and complicated datasheets, arranging questions into pictures and icons in a friendly format,” Ms McGilvray said.

“It also saves time as once information is captured electronically on country no-one is needed to enter large amounts of data at the end of a long field trip.”

The fauna monitoring sequence captures information recorded in the two hectare plots on the presence or absence of medium to large sized traditional game, threatened and invasive fauna.  In 2012, fauna information was recorded for 157 plots across Birriliburu, Martu, Ngururrpa, Pilki, Spinifex and Yilka country.

The water monitoring methods were devised by the Northern Territory’s Department of Land Resource Management through Ninti One’s Australian Feral Camel Management Project.  The methods were designed specifically to measure the impact of camels on waterholes, and the change in water condition following camel control programs.

The fire sequence is used by both ranger teams and the CfoC land management teams, and captures a range of information that affects the extent and intensity of a fire, including the vegetation and weather conditions.

“The point of interest sequence is short and simple so it’s easy to capture sightings made from a moving vehicle, where, for example, someone may have spotted a bilby burrow or an unrecorded buffel grass infestation en route to another site.  The location is then recorded so the area can be revisited to investigate the sightings,” Ms McGilvray said.

Information can be exported to a range of Microsoft programs and viewed in GIS systems.  Simple maps can be generated within the program itself to show collected information to the traditional owners. 

However, Ms McGilvray warned that Cybertracker isn’t a one-stop solution. 

“The program does have some drawbacks,” she said.  “On occasions data has not downloaded to computers, and if no information is written in the field it can be lost completely.”

“However, the software is being developed and improvements are being continually made,” she said.

Ms McGilvray said hardware also needs to be researched thoroughly before purchasing it for the field.  Some common problems include difficultly seeing the screen in harsh sunlight, battery life, and size of the screens and buttons.  It can also be easy to enter the wrong information accidentally.

“Overall, Cybertracker has proved to be a useful component of our Desert Rangelands project,” Ms McGilvray said. “Traditional owners, especially younger people, find it easy to use and collect important land management information with.”

Images:

Cybertracker screen for recording mammals ©A.McGilvray
Michelle, Bena and Judith from Punmu CfoC team; entering water testing data into the CT sequence. ©KJ