July 2021

Tracking the Nwalungu males

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Tracking the Nwalungu males

Damin Dallas
By Damin Dallas
Field Guide

Tracking is an incredible art form that requires a lot of knowledge and skill, skills that are usually passed on from generation to generation. This is why the incredible trackers at Singita are able to spot fractions of tracks like that of a toe of a leopard or predict where an animal will have moved to, based on a parted grass pathway. For many guides this is not a skill that was developed from a young age and is usually only practiced when qualified and working in the field. That being said, it is a skill that can be taught and through continuous learning and practice, many can become relatively good at the art of tracking.

A few mornings ago, a tracker and a small group of guides got together and we decided to put our tracking skills to the test. It was an extremely cool and crisp morning, probably one of the coldest mornings yet this year. We headed out before sunrise, armed with jackets, beanies, gloves and hot take-away mugs of coffee. The goal for the morning? To head out and find fresh tracks of one of the “Big 5” species and trail these tracks as a group until the animal is found.

We made our way into the western sections, having heard lions roaring in this area a few hours earlier, we knew this would be a great place to start our search. It wasn’t long before we located tracks for two male lions along one of the river loops and after a brief inspection, we decided these would be the tracks we follow.

The tracks were fresh, the animals having walked through the area in the last hour and so we all hopped off the vehicle and began trailing. We would take turns leading the trail, following any tracks or signs left by the male lions. There is always a level of excitement when tracking, you never know when you will encounter the animal you’re following, if you’re even lucky to find it in the first place. With the tracks being as fresh as they were we were caught in two thought processes. We were either expecting to find them relatively quickly or the tracking exercise would turn into a very long one. Being male lions, they very well could’ve moved over a large distance, even within an hour we soon started realizing this was the case.

We would each track for a few hundred metres and then swop out with a guide behind us, each putting our knowledge and skills to the test. There would be no help from the others unless you specifically asked for it if the trail was lost and you were struggling to find tracks again. This is how we stayed on their trail as we crossed roads, moved through thick vegetation and followed the tracks to a dam where we could see where the males stopped for a drink.

The trail was lost a few times but was very quickly found again through the collective effort of the team. We passed by elephants and even had to sneak around a very sleepy hippo bull in one of the seasonal drainage lines as we continued on with our mission. It was now five hours into the tracking and the day had warmed up a fair amount, we approached a very large termite mound with a jackalberry tree growing out the top of it. We wanted to climb the termite mound to get a better vantage point to scan the surrounding area but the obvious tawny colour of a lion caught our attention. There they were! Sleeping in the shade of the very tree we were going to stand under.

We moved to another termite mound to get a better look and we could now see the two Nwalungu male lions resting. One of the males lifted his head and took notice of us and we knew it was time to move off. After five hours of walking almost six kilometres through Singita Sabi Sand we had completed our mission! An incredible, fun and valuable team effort had paid off and we returned later that evening to watch as these males arose from their sleep and roared as the day drew to a close.