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 attempting to track Africa’s most elusive Big Cat – The Leopard…
- The leopard track appears as a typical cat’s ‘pug mark’ with four clear toe pads – measuring 8 to 10cm in length
- Male’s tracks are longer and broader than the females. The length of the male’s back foot is 9cm and females’ are approx. 8cm (average measured at Londolozi).
- The female’s toes are slightly more slender than the males.
- No claws show unless the animal is running. Three typical lobes can be found on the back (main) pad of the animal.
- Front track is broader but slightly shorter than the hind track.
- Leopard tracks can be confused with hyena (which has claws) and lion cubs (6 months to 1 year). Lion cub tracks have a more distinct inset in the three lobes at the back of the main pad.
- The track sequence is typical of the cats – with it registering (hind foot on top of front foot) when the animal is walking slowly or stalking.
- Leopards are by far the most difficult animal to track and find on foot. They tread very lightly, they are solitary, and they move in unpredictable directions – particularly when hunting. When approached they will often crouch in a thicket, allowing the tracker to walk by completely unaware, not more than five meters away!
- It is virtually impossible to track a leopard, track-for-track, in the Kruger area. Experienced trackers need to use their knowledge of leopard behaviour, look for the slightest impression indicating a track, and listen carefully to alarm calls – birds, tree squirrels, vervet monkeys and antelope will all produce an alarm call at the first sight of a leopard.
I’m very interested to answer any questions you may have on tracking leopards, 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…