LEARNING TO TRACK IS NOT A SCIENCE, IT’S AN ANCIENT ART FORM
By Phoebe Mottram
The Shangaan tracker leant down and examined the scratch on the ground. “Yes” he said, “spotted hyena, about three hours ago”. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe that he could tell so much from such a small mark on the ground. It was then that I realised, tracking in the bush is not a science — it is an art form.
Do you know how to distinguish between a lion and leopard track? How to tell the difference between an aardvark and a warthog hole? How to identify jackal scat? Tracking is endlessly fascinating and is an essential skill in the bush; knowing how to track could literally save your life. The unique thing about EcoTraining’s tracking courses is that you get the chance to develop an appreciation of the many ways in which one can identify tracks and signs…through using tracks on the ground, listening for sounds in the bush, picking up certain smells and looking at dung.
Elephants, lions, baboons and crocodiles are just a few of my favourite animals to track. This is why:
Despite being the largest land mammal on the planet, elephants have an uncanny ability to disappear in to the bush. Thankfully they leave tracks behind. Learning to interpret the intricacies of an elephant track can help you to understand the individual’s age, sex and walking speed…amongst many other things! But you don’t just use your eyes to track elephants. These creatures have a very distinctive odour (trust me, once it’s been in your nostrils you will never forget it). So, walking around the bush with open eyes and nostrils can definitely help when trying to spot these beautiful creatures!
Finding lion tracks in the bush is always exciting, but following those tracks is even more exciting! With the guidance of EcoTraining’s tracking instructors you not only learn the details of a lion track but also how to predict their behaviour from their tracks. You also learn how the other animals in the African wilderness are able to help you find lions. For instance, the alarm calls of birds, squirrels and a whole host of other species will ensure that you’re aware of the presence of any wild cats. Believe me when I tell you that this is definitely something that will get your adrenaline pumping!
Do you know how to identify a dominant male baboon just from its track? Well…it’s all about the swagger! That’s right, the dominant male who gets all the ladies walks with a strut…sounds uncannily human-like to me. Following a troop of baboons leaves a whole host of handprint like tracks on the ground, trying to find the dominant male in all those tracks is always fun!
Lazy crocodiles lying on river banks always leave fascinating tracks. Whether it’s the imprint of their scales, the drag marks of their tails or their sharp claw marks on the sand, the tracks of a crocodile are incredibly detailed. And you don’t always find them right next to rivers either…
Tracking is an art form. It is one of the most useful skills to have in one’s arsenal in the bush. It can be learnt by anyone and is endlessly detailed and intricate. With a little bit of help from EcoTraining’s tracking Instructors, tracking can become an obsession, as it has become for me.