For many visitors to the bush, the art of tracking and following an animal is both mystical and fascinating to experience.  One of the oldest known art forms, tracking is as ancient as man itself yet today it is a diminishing aspect of indigenous culture which is being kept alive by the Tracker Academy.  In this series of posts, sponsored by the Tracker Academy, we aim to help you understand how to identify and follow tracks when you are on your next safari.  Of course, there is no substitute for experience and so we encourage you to come and visit us at Londolozi and spend time with our trackers who have over 120 years of experience combined…

 

Here are a couple of important things to look for and remember when you are next tracking a lion…
  • A Lion has four distinct toes – ordinarily no claws show in the track unless the animal walks in deep mud, running or when scraping the ground when scent marking with the hind feet. Claws aid in grip when the lion accelerates.
  • There is one large main pad with three clear lobes at the back, posterior edge which is common to all the cats.
  • The two rounded toes (one being the due claw) that are situated higher up the leg but do not show in the track.
  • Tracks are usually 90-145mm in length, depending on the size and sex of the animal
  • Male’s tracks are slightly longer (up to 145mm for a front foot at Londolozi) and are broader than that of the female. The female’s average track length for a front foot measure 130mm at Londolozi.  Take a look at this track below
Male Lion Track

Male Lion Track

  • The front track is larger when compared with the hind track, which is often narrower than the front. The front foot of most animals is larger due to the weight of it head and chest that the front foot must bear. The lion uses its forefeet to grab hold of its prey, and in fighting.
  • The toes of the front foot track are also slightly more splayed. The front track can be somewhat obscured due to the ergonomic movement of the foot striking the ground, particularly in males. Males often ‘flick’ their front feet, which shows up in the track, as it does not land cleanly on the ground, making it obscure. A lion swagger!
  • In a slow (normal) stride, the hind foot will strike the ground approximately 8cm in front of the front foot. In very slow movement, like when the lion is stalking, the back foot will land on top of the front (register).
  • Lions move in prides mostly and often take the easiest route, for example, on well-worn game paths, through riverbeds or short grass clearings. They make no particular effort to hide themselves, unlike leopards, which will avoid any type of detection, even by baboons and monkeys.

I’m very interested to answer any questions you may have on tracking lions, as well as to hear your own stories and experiences whilst out tracking in the bush.  Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below…

Filed under Tracking

About the Author

Alex Van Den Heever

Contributor

Alex spent his formative years growing up on a cattle farm in the Western Cape, South Africa. After completing his studies in Marketing and Business Management, he joined world-renowned Londolozi game reserve in 1995 as a game ranger. Alex’s greatest fascination during his ...

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9 Comments

on How to Track a Lion

Terry
Guest

Thank you. Great information to have.

Mari T
Guest

Love this post, such a wealth of knowledge and truly outlines what a craft it is.

Gavin
Guest

Thanks for your information, very useful.

What I would welcome is a comparison between Leopard spoor, and Lion spoor – with particular differences especially with lone sub-adult lion/ness tracks and large leopard ? Cheers

Rich Laburn

Nice idea and definitely something which we will talk about in the comings weeks with this tracking series. Thanks for your interest, stay tuned! rich

Alex van den Heever
Guest

Hi Gavin,

Thank you for the question. I am working on such a comparison.

Alex

Viper
Guest

Mapogos are back in Sabi Sabi. Hope you guys track them in Londolozi.

Alex van den Heever
Guest

Hi Viper, we track them as often as we can. They are great for teaching novice trackers the art of following (or trailing) an animal’s tracks, as they often walk such massive distances!

Sidney
Guest

Why have you specified the measurements to lions at Londolozi? Does it mean the tracks of lions in other areas are of different sizes? Are they a different sub-species?

Alex van den Heever
Guest

Hi Sidney,

We do find small differences in the size of lion (and leopard) tracks, from individual to individual, and from area to area. The Camp Pan male leopard’s hind feet tracks, for example, are a full centimetre longer (10cm) than the average male leopard. I state the measurement and where it was measured purely to remain objective in my data collection. Secondly, a novice tracker may be able to use the measurements when trying to identify species and sexes.

The lions in the Kalahari are on average larger than those in the southern Kruger. Whether they have bigger tracks I am not entirely sure?

Hope that helps?
Alex

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