Zandvlei Trust

Tracking on Wildwood and Park Islands

(Extract article from the volume 2006/4 Newsletter)

photograph by Ian McCallum

Cape Clawless Otter footprints on Park Island

Tracking is fundamental to the human psyche, if not, to human survival. It is an intrinsic part of our language – our ability to communicate events past, present and future. And it is not only about tracking animals for we keep track of our families and friends. We keep track of the weather, of conversations, of scandals, of the business world and of time. We cover our tracks and we lose track – the reason why some of us seek counsel and help. We create tracks and we double track.

The principles of tracking animals are simple, but to successfully apply them is not only an art, it is hard work. It demands, in turn: attention to detail (positive identification of the spoor, scat, scent markings, calls etc.); analytical or process thinking (comparisons, age, size, sex of the animal and the direction of spoor); integrative or pattern thinking (linking the spoor to the territory, the weather, the food sources etc); projecting (putting yourself into the skin of the animal –“where would I would I go if I were that animal?”).
The ability to combine these principles is the hallmark of a master tracker. And we don’t have to go to the Kalahari to learn how to do it.

We can begin do it right here on Wildwood and Park Islands. From the obvious tracks of dogs and humans to the spoor of grysbok, Cape hare, porcupines, murids (mice and rats), mongooses, spotted genets, Cape clawless otters and our feathered waders, the “classroom” is on our doorstep. Take a notebook and a ruler (a match will do - it is 4 cm to the head). A field guide is essential. Have fun. Be patient and remember – we are born trackers.

Ian McCallum

Recommended reading A Field Guide To the Animal Tracks of Southern Africa by Louis Liebenberg New Africa Books.


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