One of the most enchanting aspects of a being out in nature and not seeing animals is to focus of the puzzle pieces their movements leave behind. From learning to identify tracks, to scratches in the sand, to being able to predict movements, it all becomes part of the game that makes you feel nothing short of Sherlock Holmes. The art of recognizing the pieces and trying to place them together is at the very core of becoming a guide and is often amongst the first skills you need to develop. The challenge and the beauty of it is that it’s acquired with a keen eye, constant practice and a sixth sense. I have been lucky to be around some incredible trackers that have been able and still teach me a trick or two, and I’m still lucky to be able to learn everyday from unexpected scenarios.
In a particular uncertain period of my life, going back to basics has been a welcomed relief and also a great way of polishing some skill that may have become a bit rusty. On a certain morning we set out to look for leopard tracks because well, we wanted to find a leopard, any leopard track would have been wonderful but.. that day no leopards had been walking around. Because we had no luck with these tracks, we then started focusing on a smaller things. Thus we came across a strange series of events.
A slithering track on the road made us stop. A snake has been here. But also.. a civet?. They don’t feel like civet tracks. Let’s carry on looking.
Aha! Something happened here. It seems there was a struggle here, the sand has been clearly disturbed.
The civet killed the snake!
No. Getting ahead of myself with narrative. I look up and the snake track continues after the disturbance. Snake didn’t die, it carried on, civet only came after the snake. Observe, think, question.
We carry on investigating. White tailed mongoose tracks. Maybe this is the culprit of the disturbance? OH. A scrub hare died here. Now that I’ve gone around I can see it now. Can you?
No? Walk around, it might become easier. What about now?It’s a heartbreaking sight of where it was lying on it’s side. Even a faint trace of it little ear.
It’s not always a smooth process. Sometimes it takes coming back and forth to try and figure out what it that you are looking at. “Don’t bend your knees, circle the track, go around it”.
Like in a game of clue, we start puzzling the pieces together with the evidence we have.
The snake was here, the snake didn’t get eaten. The small predator’s track are on top of the snake. the snake’s tracks continue. The predator was here after the snake.
We come back to the predator tracks. Not a white tailed mongoose. No sign of claws. This creature has retractible claws as there are no marks in the sand. It’s not a civet, the tracks are not round enough. This looks like a small cat. Of course the day I need it, the tracking book is left behind. Serval? Caracal? African Wild cat? We take photos, definitely one of them. Judging by size we lean towards caracal or wild cat.
Happy with our results and the evident we have gathered we set to piece the clues together for the evening events.
- Snake slithered away.
- Predator came around after the snake was gone.
- White tailed mongoose was going in the opposite direction, although a brief suspect, not the predator culprit of murder.
- Victim is a hare. Death was by predator consumption. Identity of victim confirmed by hair fluffs samples on the side of the road.
- Culprit’s track found at the murder scene match African wild cat tracks.
Woho! We did it. Happy with our results we then realised what we were looking at. A wild cat lives HERE?! Wait, WHAT!?
Automatic thought: I will drive this road flat every night now that I know one of them lives here. Challenge… accepted.
Nb: I apologize for poor pc drawings, I hope they gave a better idea of what we look at when we look at tracks.