Tracking is a very misunderstood skill and one that is sadly dying out in this modern age. However I have been privileged to spend time with some great trackers and through observing and listening to them, I have learnt a little more about this incredible art.
When one hears the term ‘tracking’ you invariably think of footprints or tracks left behind by an animal. In reality it is far more than mere footprints. You need to learn to listen to the bush not just look at it and you need to have patience. Knowing the habits of the animals in the area and having an intimate knowledge of the area is of great benefit to a guide as well.
So if we are not always looking at footprints then what are we using to find animals? Well everything that we see, smell or hear. Even if the signs are old we can still interpret this and create a story out of what we are seeing or even smelling.
Hearing is used to detect sounds such as alarm calls from birds, baboons and antelope or calls from animals such as a lion’s roar or simply branches breaking or water splashing to give away the presence of an animal.
Smell is used to detect how fresh an animal’s droppings are or perhaps determine the passage of an animal that has crushed aromatic plants underfoot. Consider the strong chemical scent of an elephant bull in musth. There is no mistaking that smell!
Sight is used to detect broken branches, grass pushed down by the passage of an animal or simply the movement of grass or bushes. Sometimes even a few hairs caught on some vegetation.
Touch is used to feel the freshness of mud on a tree trunk, antelope droppings, the soil of a track or even a recently plucked grass or chewed stem or broken branch.
In addition to this we can use weather to help us. Has it recently rained, when did we have that strong wind and what season are we in?
Tracking is a melting pot of senses that put together lead to an incredible experience of hopefully finding the animal in question. And it does not necessarily need to be a large high profile animal, it could be a reptile, a bird, just about anything that leaves a history of its passage.
So get out there and open up your senses to the bush, take your time, be patient and she will reward you with many amazing gifts. Enjoy!