There is a beauty, a drive and a spirit in the art of tracking. When you come across the foot prints of an animal and step down from the vehicle to investigate, there is a sense of aliveness and a feeling that brings you right back down to earth. It gives you an understanding, one that creeps into your body and your mind, you take hold of what feels like the spirit of the animal and you move in the steps it has taken in its past.
Trackers are gentle souls, they are the men who have lived in nature their whole lives and who respect the ways of the wild. They have a totally different understanding and perspective of the bush that sometimes for us even as guides we struggle to comprehend. They have an instinct which works in incredible ways to pick up even the smallest of movements, signs or marks left behind which tell a story and one that they can read with complete ease.
For me the tracker and guide relationship is of utmost importance and working alongside my tracker and great friend Rebel has opened up my eyes to their world, their way of seeing the bush around them and thus changing my perspective on tracking as a whole. It is truly a feeling, it is instinctive.
There have been many occasions during our days together where Rebel has stopped me to take a closer look at tracks found while driving, his intuition on animal direction has always been on point but there was one day in particular that I will never forget. One of struggle, emotion and complete joy.
We were driving in the eastern portions of the Singita Sabi Sand property when Rebel spotted some lion tracks. At this time we had an amazing group of ladies as our guests and we had tried several days before to see lions, in particular we were truly wanting to show them the four new Mhangeni Pride cubs. So when Rebel found these tracks we were extremely excited. He climbed off the vehicle and took his trusty walking stick with him along with a hand-held radio and was off to follow in the footsteps of this pride of lions.
Moments passed by and I continued driving and checking areas where the lions might have moved until I got a radio call from Rebel. The lions had been found! We made our way there to find only the mother of the cubs and a few of the sub adults with her in that position, but that is not the end of the story…
This is the part that I will never forget. The lioness and mother of the four new lion cubs got up and started moving with stride, she was on a mission and following her was starting to prove extremely difficult in the terrain.
She moved through a large hilly area not consisting of any roads and one with many deep crevices and rocks which were impossible to drive over. Rebel and I looked at each other and sensed this feeling that she may be on her way to her cubs – the last place we knew they were hiding was between the reeds of the Sand River.
I did my best to try and keep a visual on this female, we watched from far and could only pick up on her when we saw movement and looked through binoculars but even then when you saw her she was what you could imagine a small little needle in a haystack might look like.
This is where the complete instinct of a tracker took over. Rebel for some reason had this powerful feeling that we should drive to the top of the rocky outcrop, half way between where we last saw the lioness and the river, he believed that she was going to go that way and of course I thought he was completely MAD but I put my trust in him and we went for it.
This was to be one of the most difficult drives through an area that I have ever experienced, we drove over one of the rockiest mountain sides you could possibly imagine. Through this journey I wanted to give up and turn back at least six times (maybe more, but I kept that on the inside).
“Rebel!” I called, several times and his response was “Keep going!” There was even a time when one of the ladies said to me “Chene, if you are uncomfortable with this we can turn back?” and in that moment I said “No, we have gotten this far and Rebel seems to really believe they are here but if they aren’t then Rebel you are in trouble!!” he laughed and the ladies laughed too. I laughed through the exhaustion I was feeling from driving through this area, until we got to the end. There was nowhere else to go, the rocks were just too big!
We were at the top and the river was in sight, we looked all around us, nothing. Absolute disappointment rushed over all of us. I radioed Claude who was down by the river hoping the female would come out in the spot she hid the cubs previously, when from nowhere one of the ladies said… “There they are! There are the cubs!” They were a bare 10 meters away from us, sitting quietly in between the rocks and the long grass and it seemed as though something from behind them over the ridge had caught their attention. Their mom! The lioness walked up over the ridge right in front of us and the cubs began to vocalize with complete excitement that their mother was back to see them.
It was in that moment, all of the ladies on the vehicle, including myself started to cry with absolute joy and achievement, it was beautiful. Rebel looked at me and smiled with his big smile and the moment was complete. We all enjoyed one of the most spectacular sightings with the lioness and her four little cubs as they walked right by us and continued down toward the river.
Still to this day I will never forget the intuition and complete instinct that Rebel showed in this situation, without his feeling we would never have seen what we did. It is without a doubt that a tracker knows in his heart and in his spirit, the movement of the animal both in past and in present. It is an art. For centuries they have lived alongside these incredible beasts and it is within the modern-day tracker that we can truly appreciate their ancient skill.
So I invite you, the next time you are on safari and your tracker gets off the vehicle to investigate tracks, tap into his mind and his intuition and let him show you the footprints of that animal who has walked there in its past. Let him show you how it moved, how it went about its daily life. I promise you will gain a whole new understanding of what finding animals is all about and a new look into the spirit of the animal who left its marks behind for you.