Can Artificial Intelligence Help Pinch Poachers?
31 October 2019
Samantha Makamu is 21 years old and hails from a small village called Justica in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. She is the third female student to be accepted into the specialised wildlife tracking course at the SA College for Tourism’s Tracker Academy.
The academy provides training opportunities to unemployed men and women from impoverished rural communities – equipping them with the traditional skills of tracking and empowering them to find permanent employment in the nature-based tourism industry of South Africa.
Having completed her high school education successfully, Samantha first tried her hand at becoming a chef, but couldn’t complete her studies due to financial restraints. She struggled to find any other opportunities for education or employment until she was chosen by the Tracker Academy to start training in 2019.
Since I have been at Tracker Academy, I have learnt how to identify animals and their tracks. I love doing tracking and also following some of the wild animals in the bush. That’s why after this course I want to become the first female Master tracker in the province of Mpumalanga. I want to teach other young ladies about wildlife and also help to prevent rhino poaching in South Africa. I will change my life with this opportunity.
The Tracker Academy has been training professional trackers through its CATHSSETA accredited programme since 2010. The aim is to empower the tracker graduates to become ambassadors for and custodians of Africa’s wildlife by bringing authenticity and accuracy to environmental education, wildlife protection, eco-tourism, monitoring and research.
In 2018, the programme expanded its reach to include the intake of the first two female tracker students at the Tswalu campus in the Kalahari. The first two recruits were South African-born, Justa Frans, and Kelatlhilwe Malaki from Botswana. They both graduated with distinction in November 2018 – becoming the first ever formally accredited female trackers in their respective countries.
Justa has since been accepted by Samara Game Reserve as a tracker intern: “When I first arrived at Tswalu I didn’t know any tracks, but I tried my level best and I finally got level 3 for both trailing and tracks identification. Now I am the very first female tracker at Samara. I am super excited and look forward to making myself and the Tracker Academy proud.”
Abegail Rosechida van Wyk is the fourth female tracker to be accepted into the programme. She shares a similar story to that of her fellow student, Samantha. Born in a small town called Askham near Upington in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, Abegail also completed high school successfully and first went on to study Human Resource Management before financial problems forced her to abandon her studies. As the eldest daughter in the family, she had to find a job in order to support her brother and sister. She ended up doing public work in a community where not many other opportunities exist.
That was until the Tracker Academy gave her a second lease on life: “I find this course so interesting because my forefathers used to live in the bush. For me, it is great to learn what they knew and experienced about wild animals and nature. When I complete the Tracker Academy course, I would like to become a professional tracker and share my story and knowledge gained with the guests – and be a role model for the youth in my community.”
The Tracker Academy sponsors 24 students a year, and more than 94% of the graduates are permanently employed in related fields. For the duration of their training, the students are provided with robust and very smart uniforms, sponsored by Cape Union Mart.
Thank you to Cape Union Mart for our uniform – it keeps us comfortable in the field and makes us feel very proud!
The SA College for Tourism is a non-profit organisation that operates under the auspices of Peace Parks Foundation. In addition to tracker training, the college offers hospitality training, as well as eco-herding skills through the newly launched Herding Academy.