The Art of Tracking

Kruger National Park | November 2020

Tracking is a skill that some guides and most trackers developed at a young age. When we were tasked with looking after our family’s cattle, we would let the cattle go out and graze in the village and then when it was time for them to return, we would follow the tracks of our herd by identifying the prints of the matriarch who leads them. Once we found them, we would herd them back into their kraal. It starts with a single footprint embedded in the ground, which is the first of many clues you receive that an animal has been in a certain area. Tracks are often accompanied by other signs like scent marking, scratches and feeding signs that pull the story together and allow you to gain a better understanding of the movement of an animal, and interpret their story by seeing their journey.

I remember one morning we went out for a walk. Our intention was to track White rhinos, not necessarily to view them, but to alternatively walk the same path that the rhinos had walked, stop where they had stopped, run where they had run, and sit down where they had sat. We drove from the lodge to an area where white rhinos were last seen a few days ago and scanned around and found tracks that would serve as an arrow head to direct us in the right direction. We managed to locate tracks of these rhinos which made everybody in the group very excited because we all knew that by finding the tracks we have gained entrance into their world and were given a starting point. We took on formation and began tracking these four-legged beasts. It was a windy day, and the wind was blowing towards us, which put us at an advantage because any animals upwind would not get our scent, including the rhinos.

After about two hours of tracking these rhinos through hills and flats, and rocks and narrow game trails we eventually caught up with these beautiful creatures that were lying down seeking shelter from the sun under a tree. We had spotted them from a distance, which then gave us enough time to work on our approach, taking into consideration things like the position of the sun, wind movement, and concealment. We were at a far enough distance that being spotted by them was not an issue because rhinos don’t have the strongest long distance eyesight, however they are aware of movements so we ensured we kept concealed and slowed down the approach. We managed to get close to these animals with all the conditions in our favour, including a safe exit if we were detected, but everyone was aware of where each foot of theirs was being placed and kept noise to a minimum, to make sure we did not disturb their peace and relaxation. They were completely unaware of our presence, not even a flicker of an ear in our direction was made. We then retreated from the area as quietly as we had entered and let them enjoy the rest.

While busy enjoying our time with them a thought came to my mind that if more is not done to conserve and save rhinos from poachers and the brink of extinction, then in a couple of years my child or their future children may not get the opportunity to share the same space with these magnificent beasts. If we all pull together and work on being the voice of the voiceless, the protectors of the vulnerable, then we can manage to save the remaining rhinos so maybe one day in the future one can still walk in the footprints of these creatures.