There is nothing more exciting than following a fresh set of tracks. The moment requires intense focus, constant awareness of your surroundings, and a unique attention to detail if the tracking effort is to be successful. You have to immerse yourself in the bush, becoming a participant rather than an observer. You have to think and act like the animal that you are tracking, in an attempt to try to understand and predict the animal’s movements.
It’s like trying to solve a complex puzzle. At first, the task seems monumental, but, as one piece starts to fit together with another, so the momentum starts to build. Soon, there are a number of pieces that fit together, and the picture (even if its only a small portion of it), begins to make sense.
Out here in the bush, these pieces come in many shapes and forms and various clues begin to present themselves. It may be the direction of a particular track, the fresh smell of scent marking, the monotonous alarm call of a bird, or the way the grass has been flattened as the animal has walked through.
The ability to recognise these signs, and to make sense of them all however, is no easy task, and I am always amazed by tracker Euce Madonsela’s (the tracker I am privileged to work with) ability to read and understand the bush.
I arrived here at Londolozi with almost no tracking skills other than the exposure we had to basic tracks and signs during training, but, exposure on a daily basis to Euce and his unique set of skills has made me infinitely more aware of my surroundings.
To truly understand the art of tracking takes years and years of experience, and even then, many are of the opinion that tracking can never be fully mastered. It is something that I have become passionate about, feeding off the infectious energy that Euce possesses about tracking and finding animals.
The large majority of the animals that we have found therefore, have not surprisingly been directly attributable to Euce’s efforts. However, last week I was on my own, accompanying my guests out into the bush for a surprise picnic lunch, when my hundreds of hours of being exposed to Euce’s skills eventually paid off. Out the corner of my eye, and in amongst the long grass, I saw the flick of a tail. Upon closer inspection, I realised that we had found the Tsalala Breakaway pride, consisting of the Tailless female, the three young Tsalala males and their sister. We spent some time viewing them, and then decided to move on.
Returning from the picnic site, I was amazed to see that the lions had moved off. Inquisitive about where they had moved off to, I decided to put my tracking skills to the test. Like any logical tracking effort, I started from their last known position, and progressed from there. In my mind I knew that it was during the heat of the day, and that it was quite likely that the lions had moved off in search of water. There were two options in the form of a small pan nearby, as well as the Sand River about 250 yards away. After walking for about 10-15 minutes, I found their tracks and was able to now determine the direction in which they had travelled. I returned to fetch the vehicle and continued to follow these tracks, which eventually led me down toward the river.
Approaching cautiously in the vehicle, navigating the steep bank, I spotted the lions laying down in the shade on the opposite bank of the river. My level of excitement was like nothing I had ever experienced, but, unbeknown to me, the best was yet to come. After waiting for a period of about 20 minutes, observing through binoculars, I noticed some movement in the bushes behind the spot where the tailless female was laying. Out of the bush appeared two tiny little lion cubs who continued to play with each other and irritate the rest of the members of the pride as all lion cubs know how to do, as if I was not even there.
Completely overjoyed, I rushed back to the camp, and went straight to Euce’s room. By the excited look on my face, he knew that I had a story to tell. I had explained to him that I had tracked and found a pride of lions and that I had seen the Tailless female’s cubs for the first time ever. He did not say much at the time, but I knew that he felt a sense of pride that I had shown such an interest in something that he is so passionate about. We returned later that afternoon with Euce and my guests, and what unfolded will remain etched in mine and Euce’s memories forever.
I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves: