Track & Sign Certification
David Moskowitz provides Track and Sign Certifications through Cybertracker Conservation, an international non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to is to help communities and individuals to monitor their own environment by providing software that is free and easy to use by all people, regardless of their level of education and by providing Tracker Evaluations to help people develop their practical observation skills. Cybertracker’s Wildlife Tracking Certification has become the international standard for professional and amateur certification in the field of wildlife tracking.
Why Wildlife Tracking Certification?
Cybertracker Conservation’s Wildlife Tracking Certification has its roots in wildlife conservation, citizen science, and social justice. Certifications were designed to verify the reliability of observers collecting natural sign data in order to provide credentials for Local Experts in Southern Africa for employment in wildlife research. In Africa, from there it spread into the Ecotourism industry where it has become the standard for safari trackers in South Africa’s huge Game Lodge Industry.
Here in North America, the first Evaluations were delivered in 2005 as a part of research on the validity of natural sign data which was the basis of ongoing monitoring of river otters (Lutra Canadensis) in the state of Texas. The state of Texas, recognizing its tremendous value as both an assessment and training tool for their biologists have been contracting with Cybertracker Conservation to evaluate and certify their state wildlife biologists ever since.
Land trusts and conservation organizations involved in wildlife monitoring and citizen science, including the Sky Island Alliance and the Cascade Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project have used certifications to help train their observers and validate the reliability of their data.
Recognition of the value of the certification process as an educational tool has led to numerous educational organizations to sponsor events. This includes National Park institutes, regional Audubon Chapters, and numerous environmental education organizations around the country.
For more information on Cybertracker Conservation globally, its history, and current projects, visit www.cybertracker.org. For more information on Cybertracker Conservation in North America, including a list of certified trackers in North America, visit trackercertification.com.
The Educational Value of Cybertracker Track and Sign Certification Events
While the structure of Cybertracker Conservation’s certification events was originally designed to rigorously test and document an individual’s current tracking skill set, the process has also proven to be an exceptionally engaging and effective from an educational perspective.
The structure actively engages participants in the process of identification and interpretation of tracks and signs encountered in the field. The candid environment that defines the discussions of each question during the event, provides the opportunity for participants to share their thoughts openly and ask detailed questions of the evaluator. All evaluators are both exceptionally skilled in the field of wildlife tracking and are also capable communicators who draw on cutting edge research in the fields of wildlife biology and tracking to explain tracks and signs in the field.
Evaluations strive to expose participants to the widest possible diversity of tracks and signs in the event locale. The format of certification events is entirely field based. This structure provides participants with focused mentorship from evaluators in the practical observational techniques and thought processes required to efficiently and accurately interpret tracks and signs found in typical field conditions.
Scientific Value of Certification
Identification and interpretation of the tracks and signs of wildlife has been a basic component of wildlife research for centuries. Observer reliability is fundamental to all field based research, and the validity of research methods that rely on tracks, scats, and other signs have often been questioned based on questions around the reliability of accurate identification and interpretation of signs found in the field. Various studies have shown that reliability can vary widely depending on the specific type of data being collected and the skill of the observers. However, well trained observers paired with appropriate research methods can consistently collect highly reliable data without many of the costs associated with many more high tech or invasive research methods. Wildlife Tracking Certification provides both an exceptional training tool for observers as well as an objective evaluation of their skill set and reliability in the field.
The Evaluation Process
Cybertracker Conservation’s Track and Sign Certification is relatively simple and entirely field-based. The Evaluator selects numerous tracks and signs discovered in the field and asks participants various questions about them. Each participant is allowed to inspect the sign, search for any additional evidence to help interpret it, and answer the question. After each participant has answered a question, the entire group discusses it and the evaluator points out the features that allow for conclusive identification of the track or sign in question. Evaluations have a minimum of 40 and maximum 70 questions on them depending on field condition and each question is ranked in difficulty based on a set of objective criteria which influences the scoring of participants’ performance. At the end of two days of evaluation, certificates are awarded as appropriate and everyone who receives a certificate is recorded in a public database of Certified trackers.
For a complete outline of the certification process, various certification levels, and for a list of certified trackers from around the world visit: cybertracker.org/tracking/evaluations. Check out these blog posts to see photos and examples of the types of questions that are asked on a Track and Sign Evaluation.