We have been walking for two hours. The buffalo we have been tracking is close and Senior Tracker Renias Mhlongo knows it. The two students who have taken the lead for the day are alert and walking slowly. Renias stops me and points to a black spot in the bushes a little way in the distance where he can see the buffalo bedded down. He doesn’t tell the students – they must figure this out for themselves. The tracker students have learned a lot in the past six months and spot the animal shortly after Renias points it out to me. We sneak up, moving quietly, and watch them for a little bit. Then we silently move away.
My name is Aimee Tallian and I have spent the last six months volunteering for the Tracker Academy. Alex Van Den Heever, the founder, asked me to come out and help write a training manual for his school. I spend every day in the bush, learning what the students learn and compiling information that I glean from the two instructors Renias and Pokkie Benadie. The manual will be something like a track and sign identification guide, but much more detailed. It will also be geared specifically towards the Tracker Academy students and the areas that they train in. This will also be one of the first steps in a long process of writing down and preserving the wealth of indigenous knowledge and skills that these two veteran trackers have.
These photos are examples of what will be included in the training manual. Can you identify them?
When I first arrived I barely knew where to start. Now, thanks to these two men, I can not only identify rare and difficult tracks, but tell you how old they are, how many animals were in the group, and what they were doing. I have learned to safely follow large and potentially dangerous animals in the wild by listening to what the bush tells you. The art of tracking wildlife is ancient and beautiful and I feel privileged to be working with Renias, Pokkie and Alex. The skills I have gained during my time here are truly irreplaceable. Thank you.
Written and Photographed by: Aimee Tallian