(WILDLIFE SAFETY) SOUTH AFRICA — This month, a young student attracted Google’s attention after creating a website that provides updates of animal whereabouts in a South African national park. While the intricate website initially sounds like a dream for tourists and professional photographers, it leaves some worrying about potential poachers who would be able to locate these exotic animals with just the click of a button. Could this be a threat, or should we celebrate the schoolboy’s complex invention? Read on for more details on the site, and tell us what you think. — Global Animal
Photo Credit: EPA

The Guardian, David Smith

In the decadent days when Theodore Roosevelt and British royals led African hunting expeditions, they had to rely on local trackers, patience and luck in their quest to bag “the big five”.

Today’s tourists, armed with cameras instead of guns, still find timing is everything when scanning the savannah for buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino.

However, A 16-year-old schoolboy has found a hi-tech solution. Nadav Ossendryver’s website, Kruger Sightings, provides real-time updates on wildlife sightings in South Africa’s world famous Kruger national park.

“Leopard feeding in tree”, said one post on Monday. “3 wild dogs” read another. “2 male lions 4km south of lower Sabie across river bank”, noted a third.

Ossendryver has taken a familiar concept, crowdsourcing, and transposed it to an African setting. 

In just eight months he has reportedly gained 18,000 followers, including in Britain, America and India, and caught the eye of staff at Google, which wants to find ways to commercialise his idea.

The idea came to him because he grew tired of nagging his parents to ask passing motorists in the park where the best wildlife sightings were, South Africa’s Sunday Times said. He set up a blog that grew into Kruger Sightings. Now he gets up early, before Kruger park opens each morning, so he can post immediate updates based on information from visitors using Twitter, Facebook, BlackBerry messenger or the website itself. 

Not even his school in Johannesburg gets in the way, as he continues to run the site during breaks.

“I feel for all the people in Kruger park relying on me,” Ossendryver told the Sunday Times, adding that the South Africa National Parks made him their first virtual honorary ranger.

Established in 1898, Kruger spans nearly 2m hectares and contains a rich diversity of species: 336 types of trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals.

Ossendryver began collecting data when his family visited the park five years ago. “I can tell you every lion I saw, what it was doing, where it was and the weather at the time,” he told the paper. “I love everything about the game reserve. You can go 1,000 times and never see the same thing. I could spend all day there, but not all day on the beach.”

The site has helped him spot 13 lions, six leopards, three cheetahs and four wild dogs in his past two trips, he added. It also carries contact numbers to report rhino poaching which, fuelled by rising demand for horn in the Far East, has resulted in 281 of the animals dying this year.

More Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/30/wildlife-tracker-south-africa