The Art of Tracking

It has been said that tracking is an unusual combination of disciplines.  How many other fields do you know of that combine science and the arts?  These are two fields which activate two completely different sides of the brain!  With such a challenging nature, more and more guides and trackers are becoming passionate about tracking and trying to broaden their knowledge of the subject.

You may question how tracking involves science and what its importance is.  The answer would be that people have been using tracking to find animals to hunt for millennia.  In those times it was a matter of survival for those people but in today’s modern times it has very relevant uses as well.  In terms of conservation, tracking can help conservationists to identify the numbers and activity of rare and seldom seen species.  Often, in what appears to be a completely lifeless landscape the ground will tell the tale of the previous night and day’s events.  The real benefit is that tracking is a completely unobtrusive way of obtaining information about animal behaviour where it is not affected by human presence.

Over the last few decades Louis Liebenberg (an authority on the subject) has developed a system for evaluating trackers based on different facets.  The first consists of track & sign identification.  Tracks and signs are circled by the evaluator and the trackers are asked to identify them.  Difficulty varies from level 1 (“Big 5”, hippo, giraffe, zebra etc) to level 2 (antelope, jackal etc) to level 3 (insects and birds).  Not only must the tracks be correctly identified but dung, scent markings, rubbing posts, etc will also be tested.  The second facet is a trailing component where the tracker must follow an animal’s trail over different substrates and use all of their senses and intuition to find the animal.

Last week two of our trackers, Vusi Nkosi, Collen Mokoena and I embarked on one of these assessments to attain some formal qualifications and perhaps learn some tricks from our very experienced evaluator, Colin Patrick.  As I had already attained track & sign level 3 before, Vusi and Collen spent these few days alone with Colin.  50 questions were asked and the lads only missed a handful of them.  At the end of the track & sign both Collen and Vusi came away with level 3, a fantastic effort!  The next few days were spent tracking white rhino as they leave a visible trail and are a good benchmark to assess all levels of trackers.  The trail must often be followed for hours before the evaluator is satisfied and all signs must be pointed out including resting spots, dung piles, rubbing posts.  The tracker’s senses and concentration must not waver throughout the exercise and he must also be aware of other animals in the vicinity and any sounds which might lead them to the animal.  Collen and I did fairly well on difficult trails and both attained high level 2’s (a few percent short of level 3).  Vusi put in a phenomenal performance and actually went all the way to an overall tracker level 3 qualification!

With the Karula safari team showing so much passion and talent for tracking the rest of our team cannot wait to attend the next assessment in April and show what they are capable of! Good luck to them in the next few weeks!

Cameron Pearce, Head Ranger – Kapama Karula

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A new addition to the raft

 Whilst passing John’s dam early this morning we spotted an adult female hippo whose body was mostly submerged with only her chin resting on the sand. As we were watching the hippo through our binoculars we noticed something small moving next to her right ear. Upon closer inspection to our delight we realised that it was a brand new baby hippo – probably only a few days old!!! A female hippopotamus gives birth to a single calf, about 8 months after mating with a male. A female generally only has one offspring every two years .Newborn hippos are relatively small, weighing from 55 to 120lbs, and are protected by their mothers, not only from crocodiles and lions, but from male hippos that, strangely enough do not bother them on land but only attack them in the water. Hippopotamus calves are born either on land or in shallow water. In water, the mother helps the newborn to the surface, later teaching it to swim. Giving birth in the water helps the mother to conserve her energy and reduces the chances of the young becoming a victim of an animal on land. They generally suckle milk from their mothers while underwater. In the water, young ones are often seen resting their heads, or standing, on an adult’s back, usually their mother’s, because the effort to keep afloat tires them too much. Until a calf is strong enough to walk far, the mother leaves it with other females to babysit when she goes to feed. Young hippos can only stay under the water for about half a minute, but adults can stay submerged for up to 6 minutes. Young hippos can suckle under water by taking a deep breath, closing their nostrils and ears and wrapping their tongue lightly around the teat to suck. This procedure must be instinctive, because newborns suckle the same way on land. A young hippo begins to eat grass at 3 weeks, but its mother continues to suckle it for about a year. My guests noticed a red substance on the skin of the adult female. Many guests have heard the myth that hippos sweat blood. This is untrue. Hippos often bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance. This liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs. Since the mother Hippo often needs to be in water that is too deep for her young, you will see them riding on her back. If she stays in shallow water then the sunlight will be able to dry her skin and to sunburn. While Hippos are known to be highly aggressive and loners, the mothers are very good caregivers. They offer guidance, interaction, and learning so that their young can be strong and healthy as they mature. We look forward to monitoring the progress of our new hippo over the coming months!!!!!!

Sarah-Estelle Sangster-Ranger,Kapama Karula

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Leopard action on Video

These elusive cats are regularly seen but it’s not always that you have time or have a camera with you. Being nocturnal they are normally spotted when the sun have set and leaves us with great sightings and the guest with 100’s of photographs. On this specific day I was lucky enough to have my video camera with me and with my amateur video graphic skills I managed the capture these fun moments between a female and her cubs.

Click on the link below to watch this video

Leopard cub playing with mom

With the rain we had the last couple of months, all the dams are full and most of the rivers and streams are flowing making it difficult for some of us to cross and get to the other side. I managed to capture a female and her two cubs trying to cross a low water bridge outside Karula. It was only a meter drop and the cub have met the mother safely on the other side.

Click on the link below to watch this video

Leopard cub trying to cross a low water bridge

Mike Kirkman-Senior Ranger, Kapama Karula

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10 Day Safari-Kapama Karula

After a  10 day safari at Kapama Karula, guest Rob and Clare left with great photo’s and fond memories.






Hope to welcome you back soon.

Andries Jamneck

Photo’s by Rob Overy

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Karula Midday Madness

Because of the rain during the morning safari some of my guests decided to sleep late.  After breakfast we set out again to make up for lost time.  I wasn’t expecting much activity as it was quite hot by this stage… But were we in for a surprise!

We had found a huge male leopard a few hours before but struggled to follow him because of the rain.  We now went in search of him again and were rewarded with a much clearer view as he climbed a few termite mounds and peered into the burrows, obviously in search of a warthog breakfast.

We were slowly heading back to towards the lodge, easing past a lone buffalo bull along the way, when one of the other rangers gave us a call on the radio.  He informed me that there was some suspicious behaviour up in the skies and so we rushed off to investigate.  Upon arriving at the scene we were astonished to see literally hundreds of vultures in hurricane formation directly above us.  We watched as they came hurtling through the air at breakneck speed towards a dark object lying in the grass.  It was difficult to see exactly what animal they were squabbling over through the writhing mass of feathers.  Our first clue eventually came bounding up to us in the form of a baby wildebeest, clearly confused.  It immediately became apparent to us that his mother had been killed sometime that morning.  He ran up to the vultures, bleating as he went, searching for his mother.  This caused the vultures to scatter and a yellow-billed kite that was “waiting in the wings” took this opportunity to make a half-hearted attack on the youngster.

We were amazed that the calf’s bleating had not attracted any predators as the sound is like someone ringing a dinner bell.  Not long after a black-backed jackal arrived but was clearly more interested in the carcass than the live bait.

A little further down the track we stumbled upon a pride of three lions, one adult female, and two sub-adults (male and female).  They were the obvious culprits of the murder as they all had full bellies and were now sleeping it off in the shade of a river bushwillow thicket, completely ignoring the cries of the young orphan.

This is one story which does not have a happy ending, however, as later that afternoon during the evening safari the lions began to stir again.  They made a beeline straight for the wildebeest calf, made short work of him as if he were a rag doll and dragged him down into the riverbed to be eaten at their leisure.

All photo’s by Rob Overy

Cameron Pearce – Head Ranger, Kapama Karula

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