On May 8, SANParks published an article highlighting concerns about wildlife sightings apps being used in its parks. The article suggests that wildlife sightings apps are responsible for the considerable increase in speeding, road kills as well as road rage incidents in the parks.
As Co-owner of Tracking the Wild, a wildlife sightings app, I am disheartened to see that SANParks has resorted to legal threats without first contacting us to express their concerns. After all, our platform was specifically designed to address SANParks’ concerns about sharing the location of wildlife sightings. It is a simple click of a button to switch off location sharing for any species within Kruger or any other park listed on our platform. That way, people can still enjoy posting their sightings and contribute to conservation research without the sighting location being made publicly available.
With regard to the role that wildlife sightings apps play in increasing speeding, road kills as well as road rage incidents, I think it is important to point out that dedicated wildlife sightings apps (such as Tracking the Wild and Latest Sightings) are only responsible for a portion of wildlife sightings shared in places like Kruger. A large proportion of sightings are actually shared via standard social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp etc. Tracking the Wild does not support sharing wildlife sightings on these platforms as there is no control over what is shared e.g. endangered species such as rhino. Furthermore, it is very difficult for conservation researchers to extract any useful data from these platforms. Tracking the Wild, on the other hand, sends all the sightings data generated to the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town for use in conservation research.
In addition to sharing sightings via apps, a significant number of sightings are shared via word of mouth, two-way radio, cellphone, SMS and SANParks’ sighting boards. If all of these other methods of sharing wildlife sightings are being used, then can poor visitor behaviour really be solely down to the introduction of wildlife sightings apps?
I am sure many people would agree that poor driving behaviour is a problem experienced on all South Africa’s roads, not just those in Kruger. Surely it is the responsibility of everyone entering Kruger and other game reserves to behave according to the rules and regulations? Is it really fair to pin all this terrible behaviour on wildlife sightings apps? The Tracking the Wild app has a rules section in its User Guide that reminds visitors to adhere to the speed limit and avoid overcrowding at sightings.
Unfortunately, this is an example of good technology being used in the wrong way by the minority. Technology is an unavoidable part of the world we live in today and I don’t believe that banning wildlife sightings apps is the solution. Doing so would imply that people are not responsible for their actions, an all too common problem in society these days! Perhaps SANParks should get involved in overseeing and understanding the development of wildlife sighting technology. That way, SANParks can make sure its concerns are addressed and can continue to benefit from the significant conservation, marketing and promotional support that wildlife sightings apps give South Africa’s national parks.