Technology, Naturally

We recently asked our Facebook fans “Would you use a smartphone app that allowed you to track the whereabouts of animals in the Kruger National Park?” The results were overwhelming, with as many people thinking it was a great idea as there were people who quite vehemently opposed it. With the runaway success of the smartphone and the increasing popularity of applications it seems like there is only a matter of time before such an app becomes available, if not (dare we venture) commonplace, in nature reserves. Knowing that some applications are more useful than others, we’ve put together a list of some of the best free apps for use in the great outdoors.

BeWeatherBeWeather’s Blackberry app takes the uncalculated malice out of unexpected storms with up to date forecasts for locations around the world. The app gives outdoorsman a meteorological clairvoyance to rival Graeme Hart’s with forecasted precipitation and detailed weather for the next 5 days; so in the future camping, hikes, game drives and other outdoor activities will only ever be ruined by truly freakish bouts of weather.Google Sky MapGreat for impressing girls on camping trips, Google Sky Map for Android allows you to point your phone at the sky, and identify the stars, planets and constellations in your view. When in manual mode, you can browse a map of the stars or search for planets and other celestial bodies, and use the phone to locate it in the sky.Classic Camping Cookbook & Meal PlannerThis iPhone app is great for planning camping meals should you feel like a change from baked beans, boerewors and char-grilled marshmallows. Users can search for the perfect recipe based on the type of ingredients available, the type of cooking method, or the type of meal. You can also create a meal plan for each day of your trip and generate shopping and ingredient lists – making packing and organization easier and freeing you up to track the wild thing of your choice.

LeafsnapFor amateur botanists who are also iPad and iPhone enthusiasts (not as rare as you think), Leafsnap promises an electronic field guide that uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. Beautiful hi-res photographs of plant anatomy make up the encyclopedia of trees. Unfortunately the app is thus far limited to species found in New York City and Washington, D.C. but the makers have plans to expand it to cover the greater US. Hopefully the app will soon grow to include plant species worldwide.Twitchers’ NotebookA straightforward application for birding fanatics who want to log sightings of various species, Twitchers’ Notebook is just the thing for Blackberry fans. You can easily search and select the bird you’re identifying in a nature reserve or in your own back garden. Once saved, every user’s sightings get listed and plotted on a national map – so you can see what birds other twitchers (that’s ‘birders’ to the rest of us) are spotting too.Humane Technology?

In the beginning of this year software developers Networked Organisms launched a smartphone application called Project Noah that allows people to upload photographs of plants and wildlife around them. The project, described as “foursquare meets nature” is touted by its developers as a way for users to participate in “creating a map of the natural world and contributing to scientific research in the process”. Essentially, the project allows people to participate as a community of wildlife enthusiasts, while contributing significant information about the state of the natural world around them. With over 50,000 downloads on iPhone, the project has thus far been a success.There would certainly be benefits to a wildlife-spotting application for the Kruger Park. Aside from improved chances of seeing the Big 5, would be a way to track all sightings and keep a record of these, acting as a personal log-book for regular visitors, or the sightings boards already in use which allow visitors to share these sightings with others. In this way, visitors would be able to identify and share the locations and status of various animal populations, which could in turn be shared with park rangers – a potentially valuable (community-driven) tracking tool for parks.What are your thoughts on the role of technology in travel and nature? Do smartphone apps and other devices spoil nature the way it is intended, or is there a potential to use them constructively? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think!

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