Welcome to 2014! I explore a new concept in game viewing in the Kruger Park

Welcome to 2014! I hope you are feeling happy, fresh and ready to take on whatever life throws at you! Now, I’m sure that’s how we’d all want to start a new year – am I right? Well, I might just have the answer for you. What about a visit to my favorite place on earth, the Kruger National Park? But this won’t be an “ordinary” visit and I know many of you are already die-hard Kruger fans, but here’s the thing: Imagine driving through Kruger and receiving alerts like these: 16:00 leopard on kill, S65, 8km from H1-1.  OR 16: 20 many lions with cubs on H4-2, 2.9km from Crocodile Bridge.  OR 16:45 Male cheetah south side of S110, 2.5km from Skukuza rest camp entrance. Mmm….now I have your attention, don’t I?

Want to know where Kruger’s Wildlife is hanging out?  “Latest Sightings” offers you just that! Real-time updates so you can keep track of animal locations throughout the park.  “Latest Sightings” is a website that allows Kruger visitors to share their sightings as they happen. Using the website, Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, park-goers can instantly report on which animals they’ve  seen and where. What’s really great, is that these real-time updates are re-formatted into a quick and efficient template, very easy, posted to the website and shared with followers via the website, social media and the Latest Sightings app. And it uses the principle of “crowd-sourcing”, where multiple users contribute their solutions to a problem – in this case, the answer to where you find big game in Kruger. It’s a genius idea that is working brilliantly.

But what makes this breakthrough service even more impressive to me is the fact that its engineer is a 16 year-old nature loving school-boy, Nadav Ossendryver. He is a Kruger addict who’s been visiting the park once or twice a year from the age of eight. In he’s interview with me recently he told me how the idea for the site came about. Here’s a snippet from that interview….“Whenever we went to Kruger, I would pester my parents to stop and ask other motorists what they’d seen. Understandably, my Mom and Dad soon grew tired of it… and this time last year we had just come back from Kruger and I kept thinking there must be a better way to find out about animals sightings. I built a website where sightings could be posted, then asked people who were going to be in the park to tell me what wildlife they were seeing and where. At the time people weren’t used to sharing and it took some work to persuade them. Fortunately, members on the SANParks forum knew me and that’s how I got started. Now I get updates from lots of regulars, many of them guides or researchers who either live in the park or visit it almost every day.” 

It was really awesome chatting to him, so passionate, and especially such a young person caring for our wildlife, it was special.

But it doesn’t stop there. Holidaymakers aren’t the only ones who benefit from this virtual sightings board. It is helping researchers monitor populations of leopard and wild dog  – among other animals. I had first hand experience of this site being very helpful when the EWT – The Endangered Wildlife Trust – had to collar wild dogs in Feb and I was the 50|50 presenter covering the story.  The experience was amazing, a community of people and visitors coming together to help. Our challenge was actually finding the dogs to collar!! We put out an appeal via this social media site and asked all Kruger visitors to report immediately if any dogs were spotted. I was standing by with Grant Beverly, the wild dog researcher, and the Kruger vets just waiting for a sighting. With the help of the Kruger day visitors, I kid you not, it took us two days to find the dogs, something that previously had taken up to two weeks! I couldn’t believe it, what a wonderful conservation tool.

About a month ago, “Latest Sightings” was again instrumental in helping the wild dogs in Kruger. What happened was, a day visitor reported a sighting of a dog with a snare around its neck. He immediately alerted conservation authorities and the rest of the Latest Sightings community who helped to monitor the dog and follow it’s movements while a vet was dispatched. Once the vets were on the road, the snare was removed within an hour. And the wild dog survived.

There’s one animal you’ll never hear about on “Latest Sightings” and that’s of course the rhino. Nadav told me that he knew from the outset that he wouldn’t post rhino sightings but use the platform every day to remind his followers to protect the whereabouts of these animals. The site also shares a contact number where rhino poaching can be reported.

I think the big question is; has Nadav used Latest Sightings himself? Absolutely, all in all he’s had 13 leopard sightings thanks to the updates.

There are several ways to connect to Latest Sightings, so simply choose the channel(s) you find most convenient.

Website: www.latestsightings.com

Facebook: Go to Latest Sightings – Kruger to like the page

Twitter: Follow @LatestKruger

And believe me you don’t have to be a field guide or Kruger resident to contribute to “Latest Sightings”. I gave it a bash when I reported for 50|50 on how the two worlds of wildlife and technology have collided. Yes, game-viewing has gone high-tech but it’s accessible to anyone and everyone who loves nature.

You know really, thanks Bonné, now all I want to do is get in my car and drive to Kruger! Why I do this to myself, I don’t know!

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What is your take on using technology to spot animals? Do you prefer the more conservative way?

And remember take care of the earth, and she will take care of you.