April 2, 2015

Top Tracking Tips

 For the past week, the students at Karongwe have undertaken an intensive tracking course that covered in excess of 50 different spoor, ranging from elephants to mice.  Under the expert supervision of Lawrence and Norman from the highly acclaimed Tracker Academy, the students have honed their skills leave with a deeper understanding of one of the most ancient and important arts that only an elite few have mastered.

Here are some top tips that have passed on during the last fascinating week

·         1. Think Outside the Box’.  Instructors will circle a solitary track in the sand, but looking at one track is like reading one chapter of a book and trying to understand the entire piece of literature.  Animals leave a variety of tracks in different substrates so it is always advisable to check up and down the path on the chance that a better example can be found.

A solitary tracked circled by the instructor
         2. Get Up Close and Personal’.  Tracking is about detail.  The presence of a faint claw mark might be the difference between an obscured African wildcat and civet track.  One cannot pick up enough information from a standing position so get down on one knee, or even your stomach, to ensure that every detail can be seen and taken into account!
Getting up close and personal
·         3. Know Your Enemy’.  Sometimes there is not enough discernible information in the track to successfully identify the species.  However, an in depth knowledge of its behaviour and habitat can help you narrow down the selection.  In a riverbed, a bushbuck track and grey duiker track can be almost identical, but bushbucks love riverine vegetation and thus chances are this will be the culprit!

·         4. Trust Your Gut’.  With the amount of knowledge that has been imparted of the past week, students often over think a track, trying to recall every feature of every track they have learned.  However, this can be problematic and you can start to second guess yourself.  Whilst a thorough examination of the evidence is important, your first impression is usually the correct one and if in doubt, trust those instincts!

·         5 Weigh Up the Evidence’.  Animals come in all shapes and sizes and will walk on a variety of different substrates.  An impala will leave a very different track on a sandy road than it will in the mud next to a waterhole.  Hooves will splay and soil will be more displaced as it sinks deeper into the mud.  Take this into account when examining the track as logical thinking and knowledge of different soil types just might help you decipher a tricky track!
Student looking to identify the track
·         6. Pace Yourself’.  The positioning of the left, right, front and back feet can give you lots of information at the animal in question.  The distance between the same 2 feet will give you a reasonably accurate measurement of its body length (ie front right foot to the next front right foot).  You can try this yourself: walk normally across the ground and then lie down with your feet level with one track.  The top of your head will rest very close to the next register of the same foot.  This can be vital in gathering enough evidence upon which to base your identification of a particular track.

·         7. Take it in Your Stride’.  The speed of the animal will dictate the purity of the track that it left behind.  A slow walk will leave a much better impression in the substrate than one moving at high speeds.  A running animal might slip and leave a more elongated track that, at first glance, might lead your astray (refer to Facebook post from 8 April 2015)

·         8. Let There Be Light’.  Tracks are best viewed at early morning or late afternoon when the Sun is low in the sky.  The detail in the track is far more visible when contrast is available thanks to light and shadow.  In harsh light, use your hand to create shade and play with the light available to enhance any subtle nuances
Looking at the track from the right angle
·         9. Line of Sight’.  Viewing the track from the correct direction is very important.  Trying to identify spoor whilst looking at it ‘upside down’ can confuse the brain and hinder you from making the correct assumptions as to its design.  Figure out direction first and look at the track from behind to get a better feel of what may have walked there!

·        10. Go Toe to Toe’.  Sometimes there is not enough information contained in the track to identify a particular species but there may be a repetitive pattern.  Knowledge of the natural rhythm, or gait, of an animal may help to narrow down your options:  does the track suggest bounding or hopping, walking or running?  The simple arrangement, coupled with other evidence such as size might be enough to reach a satisfactory conclusion!
Norman and Lawrence gives some information about the track found
Blog and photos by Ben Coley

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