Signs of the wild and the art of tracking

All our rangers, guides and trackers are fully trained and certified to work in the bush, and our team has years of experience under their belts too. Understanding the bush is an ongoing process, and every day presents opportunities to continue learning. It was this thinking about discovering and revisiting that prompted our team to undertake a refresher track and sign course.

The course got everyone together and was a great teambuilding experience. Even though we all live and work together on the same property, it is pretty unusual for everyone to be in one group. The usual scenario is some of us in the office, others in camp, a few in the field and a couple on leave. Come along with us as we brush up, revise, discover and get a fresh perspective on what we love most...Morukuru...all the acres and all the animals. A highlight of any safari is setting eyes on one of the Big Five. Sometimes this can be like looking for a proverbial needle in the haystack. Even the most experienced rangers and trackers need to get back to basics when on the lookout for an elusive animal like a Black Rhino. The entire team specifically mentioned that the most memorable take out from this course was the tracking and trailing of a Black Rhino, which took the whole morning and included 9km’s of skilled detective work. Evan Vermeulen shares his top tip: Find a specific characteristic on the foot (the identifying feature) of the animal that you are following. This mark will only help with some animals and not all of them. An example of this is the Black Rhino front foot or back foot. With Rhino, they all have cracks under their feet, but they all have different patterns. These cracks are like fingerprints. Sleuths use a combination of technologies and time-tested investigative techniques to track down their suspects. Our rangers use tracks, trails and gut instinct. Everyone agreed that animals, like humans, are generally predictable. They make decisions based on events that occur around them. Our team use their sixth sense about animals, along with signs like feeding sites, territorial markings and other animals presence; then logic is applied to come to a conclusion. Sounds like Sherlock Holmes, who said, “when you have eliminated all which is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” Things can get tricky when nature throws you a curveball like the side toe of a White Rhino looking like an antelope track. When presented with a bit of a head-scratcher, Shane Kloeck advises: this is when to stay calm, have situational awareness. Never give up on your trail, even if it takes you 3 hours. In the end, the best feeling is the high you get when you have finally found the animal that you have been trailing. The bush is full of contradictions, and this might sound counterintuitive. Still, Bradley Dicks reminds us that following the trail and not the tracks (footprints) is a difficult concept to grasp, but the quicker you can apply this concept while tracking, the more efficient you will become. Another handy pointer from Armand Steyn is always to look up and ahead of you. Do not look at the tracks at your feet, look at the tracks 5 to 10 or even 15 meters in front of you; not only will you see the trail better, but you will also be able to see any potential danger from a further distance. That’s sound advice!

Shane Kloeck says: stay confident and keep on persevering. Suppose you lose the track, keep on looking around till you find it. Work methodically through the area to try to find the track. Practice...Practice… Practice. With tack and sign and trailing, one never can know everything. The more time you spend doing it, the better you will become. When following a trail if you lose the track, go with your gut instinct and check for confirmation further on to see if the animal did, in-fact, walk there. If not, go back to the last track and systematically check for tracks and work with a definite plan.

Our team had a fantastic day and were rewarded with the ultimate prize for finding the Black Rhino. According to everyone, tracking and trailing are challenging, frustrating at times, educational at times, but extremely rewarding and most definitely addictive. These words from Evan Vermeulen are a fitting conclusion: I think the best part was to just be out in the bush with a group of friends doing what I love to do and having a lot of fun while doing it.