As one of the new members of the team, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Leaving a corporate job in the city of Johannesburg to follow a childhood passion, I was soon to realize that from the second I arrived in this magical place my life would change, for the better. I expected my senses would be heightened, my daily routine refigured and that I’d have the opportunity to meet a wonderful group of like-minded people, who love to work in the bush, excited me beyond measure.
What I didn’t expect was the incredible relationship that I would form, and continue to grow, with my new friend and tracker, Joy Mathebula. He trained through the Tracker Academy in 2016 and has been working as a tracker here ever since. A newly formed team – assembled with Joy’s 6 years of experience, patience and knowledge of the wilderness area combined with my new guiding eagerness – we are ready to tackle any challenge that may lie before us.
The Art of Tracking
“The Art of Tracking may well be the origin of science. After hundreds of thousands of years, traditional tracking skills may soon be lost. Yet tracking can be developed into a new science with far-reaching implications for nature conservation.” – Louis Liebenberg
While it has been refreshing to get to know Joy on a personal level, watching him in action is fascinating. The safari experience at Londolozi obviously relies largely on being able to observe and marvel at the beautiful creatures that inhabit the reserve, incidentally they are not always easy to find. This is where Joy plays a critical role in his “office” on the front seat of the vehicle.
Joy has a remarkable ability to spot the faintest of leopard tracks on the road as well as the head of a distant giraffe on the horizon. It is important to know that there are many teachings in the ancient art of tracking. As a new guide, tracking animals is still a novelty to me, however, there are a few fundamentals I would like to share with you that I have learnt from the professional – Joy.
Assessing a track
Are the edges of the tracks sharp? Has the track been disturbed by rain, dew or wind? Have other animals or vehicle tracks left their mark on top of the tracks? All these clues help Joy to age a track and therefore indicate what time the animal was passing through the area and
Which way are the toes of the track pointing? Are they heading into a thicket or towards a watering hole? Joy will be able to establish the behaviour of the animal by using the direction and freshness of the tracks with terrific skill and this is vital when deciding whether to pursue certain animal tracks.
After the direction and freshness of the tracks are known, as a team we decide what is the safest way to find the animal. Is it safer to follow the tracks into the thicket together? Or should we divide and conquer? This is where Joy will go alone into the bush in order to track the leopard on foot and I will drive along the roads in the direction of where the tracks are headed in order to cut it off or try to find tracks ahead of Joy to help him leapfrog further ahead.
The track left behind by the animal is not the only clue that can be used to track an animal. Rubbing posts, middens, cat scat (excrement), and impressions on the grass and game paths can be useful.
Lastly, help from other animals in the bushveld can provide important information on the whereabouts of a particular animal or predator. Some of the common ones are the calls of oxpeckers, alarm calls of squirrels, nyala, kudu and impala, and Tawny Eagle shrieks. These calls are often associated with larger, more dangerous animals.
Taking all the above information to pinpoint exactly where the animal is, requires patience, focus and a great deal of flexibility. I have had to learn these traits from Joy and when done correctly can lead to a thrilling experience for our guests. The excitement of spotting a leopard after tracking it all morning is something Joy and I look forward to every time we go out on a drive. One particular afternoon was no different as we managed to find the Ximungwe Young Male up in a marula tree after following his tracks for a while.
A single cub of the Ximungwe Female's second litter. Initially rather skittish but is very relaxed now. Birth mark in his left eye.
So I encourage you to look out for the tracking signs and sounds of the bush next time you are on a game drive at Londolozi and don’t hesitate to ask your tracker to show you the tracks as well as explain the direction and behaviour of the particular animal of interest!