Professional tracker Louis Liebenberg believes trained rangers using hand-held CyberTrackers can help curb crime on Table Mountain. Photo: Michael Walker

Tiny tear patterns in a shoeprint can help a ranger determine whether a criminal or hiker has walked through an area.

This is just one of the methods professional tracker Louis Liebenberg has used to track criminals, and he believes similar methods should be used on the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) chain.

Seventeen attacks on the mountain chain have been recorded in 2011 alone, leading community safety MEC Albert Fritz to arrange to meet TMNP authorities next week. Fritz has urged the public to e-mail suggestions to his department on how crime on the mountain could be tackled.

Liebenberg, managing director of the non-profit organisation CyberTracker Conservation, said he believed professional trackers needed to be deployed on the mountain as this could lead to more criminals being arrested and a decline in the incidence of crime.

Although tracking was not simply about following foot or shoeprints, this played an important role in tracing people, he said.

“A hiker wears running shoes or hiking boots. A suspect usually wears worn-out and normal shoes.

“The prints of a worn-out shoe have characteristic little tears. You can also tell a possible suspect from a hiker in the way he or she walks, and this again can be seen in the shoeprint.

“Suspects tend to loiter. They drag their heels. Hikers tend to walk more briskly.”

To track suspects, Liebenberg said, photographs of the shoeprints could be taken and these used to record where an individual moved.

Tracking involved interpreting tracks and signs, he said.

“This will enable you to explain what a person or animal was doing at a specific point. You then connect the dots from one point to the next.

“The idea is to predict where a suspect will next likely strike, and ambush him or her in their own ambush. Ideally, two trackers are needed for this,” Liebenberg said.

At least five years were needed to train a tracker adequately. Trackers needed good knowledge of the terrain where they were deployed, Liebenberg said.

“A tracker needs to cover a designated area every day. In this way, you know where to look.”

Trackers should also be trained to gather data on wildlife and alien vegetation.

Liebenberg said if TMNP rangers and trackers also used CyberTracker data collection software on hand-held computers, called CyberTrackers, it would enable them to plot where attacks took place and collect data on crimes, enabling them to detect trends and patterns.

He said the software, which was free, would also enable rangers to map out hot spots and authorities would also be able to see exactly where rangers with CyberTrackers were patrolling.

Liebenberg said he had approached TMNP about five years ago with suggestions on how rangers could be properly trained to track criminals.

He planned to propose the idea to authorities again. - Cape Times