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:

The cubs clearly had other ideas for the afternoon. Whilst the rest of the pride slept, they continued to stalk and play with each other

The cubs clearly had other ideas than the adults for the afternoon. Whilst the rest of the pride slept, they continued to stalk and play with each other

The development of cubs begins from very early on. Smelling, stalking, and rough and tumbling are all crucial in becoming familiar with their new environment

The tailless female awoke from her afternoon slumber and began to cross the sand river towards us. The intensity of her movements indicated that she intended on beginning the evening hunt.

The Tailless female awoke from her afternoon slumber and began to cross the sand river towards us. The intensity of her movements indicated that she intended on beginning the evening hunt.

The same kind of focus and intensity was however not evident in the younger female, who thought that crossing the river meant play-time. Here she attempts to ankle-tap the tailless female in front of her.

The same kind of focus and intensity was however not evident in the younger female, who thought that crossing the river meant play-time. Here she attempts to ankle-tap the tailless female in front of her.

Not before long, the young males were up and began to follow. Typically lions and leopards don't quite enjoy crossing fast flowing water, particularly deeper waters due to the threat of crocodiles. Here the lions chose to cross at a very narrow and shallow section of the river.

Before long, the young males were up and began to follow. Typically lions and leopards don’t enjoy crossing fast flowing water, particularly deeper waters due to the threat of crocodiles. Here the lions chose to cross at a very narrow and shallow section of the river.

Having the whole pride cross the river in front of us was the cherry on top of an otherwise phenomenal sighting.

Having the whole pride cross the river in front of us was the cherry on top of an otherwise phenomenal sighting.

About the Author

Alistair Smith

Contributor

Alistair left a corporate career to follow his true passion; the great outdoors. He began his guide training in late June of 2016, and thanks to a youth filled with numerous trips to the bushveld, sailed through the course without too much trouble. ...

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11 Comments

on A Lesson in Tracking

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Alison Smith
Guest

Wonderful story! Thank you Euce for imparting your knowledge and skills!! Could feel your excitement and passion Alistair !!

Steve Hall
Guest

Great article Asti !
I am with a group in Phinda and we have spent the morning walking and tracking – there are so many lessons to apply !
One day perhaps we will track together?!
Cheers
Steve Hall

Les Moodie
Guest

Great story Alistair. Well done

Senior Moment
Guest

The bucket seat is waiting!!!

Darlene Knott
Guest

Tracking has to be one of the hardest skills to develop! You are lucky to have a great teacher. Exciting story!

Kristine
Guest

Aw, loved this blog! Awesome storyteller AND tracker! To know Euce is to love him 🙂

Sara Loetz
Guest

Having been fortunate enough to enjoy my time in Londolozi with Alistair and Euce, I have experienced 1st hand Euce’s amazing ability. The photos are amazing. I can just picture Alistair’s excitement at discovering this amazing find! Well done Alistair!

Robyn Schapiro
Guest

Hope to see the tailless female and her cubs when we are there in a WEEK!!!! 🙂

Alessandro
Guest

Hi, Mr. Smith. Meanwhile, I do my compliments for the passion she transmits through her words and her tales … It’s beautiful to read and reread … Through her stories she almost seems to live those moments alive. I would ask you something … But the litters of Tsalala are the children of the mapogo lions?

Alessandro
Guest

I’m not talking about these puppies for months.
But of the 3 adult males. Could I have your answers? Thank you..

Lea
Guest

What a great team you two make. Tracking is inbred in Euce and it is great that he can impart some of his knowledge onto you Alistair – learn all you can from this great tracker. Beautiful pics and a nice blog. Thank you both.

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