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School boy's wildlife-tracking website helps tourists spot big beasts

School boy's wildlife-tracking website helps tourists spot big beasts
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Monday, December 31, 2012 - 10:27am

(CNN) -- He's helped save a rhino's life, spoken at major tech conferences, won several awards and created an online community of thousands of users -- and he is just 16 years old.

Teenager Nadav Ossendryver is the founder and developer of Latest Sightings, a crowd-sourcing website that provides real-time updates on animal sightings in Kruger National Park, South Africa's largest game reserve.

Founded in November 2011, the site harnesses the power of social media to enable Kruger visitors to share the whereabouts of animals with other holidaymakers, thus increasing their chances of spotting the diverse wildlife that's populating the vast park -- from lions and cheetahs to leopards and elephants.

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"WOW! What a way to end the day!! 3 lioness and 9 cubs! Thank you for this wonderful page," reads one comment posted on Latest Sightings. "YOU ARE A LEGEND!! Thank-you! Thank-you! Most amazing experience at Kruger... Wild Dogs SO close!!" says another.

It all began last year after one of Nadav's numerous visits to the world-famous Kruger, a stunning wildlife haven stretching out over 7,500 square miles.

"Whenever we came here I used to beg my parents to stop every car passing and ask them what they'd seen," remembers Nadav, who is currently a grade 10 student. "After a while they got irritated, so I was thinking, what's an easy way of getting people to share their sightings without having to stop every car?"

When he returned to his Johannesburg home, the bright teenager put his mind to the task and after two weeks of non-stop work he created his first wildlife-tracking iPhone app.

A little over a year later, Nadav says, the crowd-powered site has grown to win fans all over the world, helping wildlife enthusiasts enhance their safari experience.

"All together on Facebook, Twitter and the website, we've got over 33,000 people," says Nadav. "When I started I thought I won't even get 100 people. I never thought they'll be more than 100 people that like Kruger enough to actually follow the sightings but now there are 33,000 people, it's just unbelievable."

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Nadav remembers the case of an American couple visiting Kruger on a mission to see a leopard for the first time in their lives. The solitary, elusive cat is one of the most difficult animals to spot in the wild, but thanks to the site, Nadav says, the couple got lucky on their first day at the park.

"People go there for years and don't even see a leopard and they saw two leopard cubs in one day," he says. "They said they could have gone home that afternoon and still be so happy. And when they got home finally, they told all their friends of how they had such an amazing time in Kruger."

But while members can report movements of any wildlife whilst scanning the open savannah, there is one animal whose whereabouts is banned from the site.

"We don't ever share rhino sightings because of the poaching," explains Nadav. "It's a huge problem, there's poaching more or less every day."

Rhino poaching rates have soared in recent years in South Africa -- according to the country's officials, more than 450 rhinos have been killed this year.

Latest Sightings carries telephone numbers where people can directly report rhino poaching, says Nadav, who encourages his followers to keep an eye out for hunters.

Earlier this year, he was informed by a member about an injured rhino caught in a poacher's snare in Kruger. Nadav immediately passed on the details to a park ranger in order to prevent the animal, which was bleeding around its neck, from becoming an easy target for hunters. The ranger rushed to the scene and managed to save the stricken animal.

"If you see any suspicious activity then you can share it to us and we create awareness," says Nadav.

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The 16-year-old schoolboy, who wants to pursue career in IT in the future, was born in Israel in June 1996 and moved to South Africa when he was eight years old. Like many teenagers, he also loves soccer and tennis and plays drums in his school band.

His remarkable feats have not gone unnoticed by the world -- Nadav has held meetings with Google executives and has been invited to speak about mobile applications and the internet at some of the biggest technology events in the continent, including the Tech4Africa conference.

His numerous accolades include being named the youngest virtual honorary ranger from SANParks, South Africa's national parks service, as well as an eco ambassador for the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Looking ahead, Nadav says he'd like to expand the service to other game reserves so that he can improve the wildlife safari experience for tourists and help protect endangered species.

"I love every second of it," says Nadav. "I just love knowing about all the sightings, seeing and helping animals especially, creating awareness, trying to end poaching and learning more about Kruger -- I love every single second of it."

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