It’s considered normal these days to come across a tracker perched on the front of a rugged landrover on game drive, searching the road for animal signs, pointing into the bush, and even sometimes, directing the course of the drive like an animated conductor.

Normally shy or reserved by nature, theses guys play an integral part of the wildlife experience, and unfortunately in the hands of an ignorant or inexperienced guide, their work is often overlooked or not fully appreciated. For tracking is indeed a highly skilled profession, referred to some as an art. But whether you believe there is something poetic in studying arbitrary marks in the dirt, or perhaps not, there is regardless something richly rewarding and deeply meaningful seeing the world through the eyes of an experienced tracker. Because a shiny new one opens up before you.
Their skill in identifying tracks and sign, as well as interpreting the story behind the spoor is staggering. A good tracker will be able to tell the age of the tracks and the behaviour of the animal in question, which is impressive stuff. But a great tracker will weave this information into a complex web … what and when the animal eats, where it rests, how it moves, what it hunts, how it hunts … observations appear endless. As a result so much about animal behaviour, distribution and ecology can be discovered through tracking.

This was the case recently when the world’s very first scientific publication was submitted to science by a group of trackers who had surveyed the habits of antelope species in the Kalahari. What is so special about that, you may wonder?The trackers were all illiterate! And the paper, based on this, caused quite a stir amongst the scientific fraternity. How could it be considered as appropriate, accurate or authentic because the authors were unschooled? The fact remains that some illiterate trackers, by using their phenomenal powers of observation, bushcraft and age old traditional knowledge, were able to teach modern science a thing or two.

Whether you believe tracking is an art, or even perhaps the origin of science as some write, a past-time, or just a skill, then surely the following is worth considering:  by studying arbitrary marks in the dirt, a text book has been re-written!


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