While at Limpopo Field Guiding Academy, I was privileged to spend several hours out in the field with not one, but two highly qualified trainers. It was clear to me that two things are VERY important to have if you are assessing students…a hand-crafted stick and a clipboard. The former to denote hours spent in the bush, and the latter to denote authority. Or perhaps it was just a coincidence?
Top: Pioneer(Pines) Moyo: Pioneer is a FGASA Professional Trails Guide, Professional Field Guide, ETDP Assessor of Guides and CyberTracker Track and Sign Specialist and he recently added SKS Birding to his already impressive list of qualifications.
Bottom: Jason van Zyl. Jason is a FGASA Professional Field Guide, FGASA Professional Trails Guide, CyberTracker, Track and Sign Specialist and a FGASA birding specialist. His knowledge of tracks and signs was an eye-opener to me.
I really thought that Pines would not be able to find tracks in this dried river bed. The cracked, dried mud proved to be difficult, but eventually, a couple of really interesting tracks were found and the students asked to identify them.
Would anyone like to guess as to what made these tracks? Answer at the end of the post, but don’t cheat…test yourself first. Suffice to say that I got it only partially right.
Pondering as to what the blob on the stalk might be. This young South African student was on the mark with Hyena anal paste marking. There are signs EVERYWHERE if you know what you are looking for. Good trackers I believe are born…of hard work and hours of first-hand experience. Yes, textbooks can be used as aids, but you need to spend ‘dirt-time’ to get to grips with the myriad of tracks and signs that can be encountered when out on foot on a tails walk.
Each student has to write down the answers before presenting them to the trainer, in this case, Pines. Most of the time the students, both local and international were correct.
Pines had a series of laminated cards with the relevant tracks on them to back up his identification. You cannot look at a single track in isolation, but need to make certain that the entire area around the required track is scoured and information gleaned, before making any assumptions as to what it might be.
Scale is important when it comes to identification, especially when photographing tracks and signs. This is lion scat, and you DO NOT want to be handling this with your bare hands. Unlike the herbivores, whose dung can be handled, predator scat has a variety of bacteria that could cause health issues.
“What did you say”? And it seems that Pines is pleased with the answer from one of the Italian students.
I was privileged to spend several hours with Jason van Zyl whose knowledge of tracks and signs was an eye-opener to me. Here he is busy checking out tracks before setting out markers for the students
Part of a group of students was tasked with completing the identification exercise. As I was to discover, not as easy as it seemed. Jason did want to add my name to the score sheet, but I chose to go about my business recording the activity rather than be assessed. That being said, I did get several correct answers, much to my surprise.
Does the ‘wig’ look familiar? All I could think of was the past President of a large Western nation. It was, in fact, the remains of a young male impala. The horn buds were barely visible with one having been chewed off completely.
From down on the ground, to up in a tree. The pre-orbital gland markings of a Blue Wildebeest!
A circle in the sand and a plastic marker shows students what needs to be identified.
If in doubt, it is back to the books!
An early morning tracking session starts within the camp. Seeing the Limpopo Field Guiding Academy is not fenced off, it was interesting (and disturbing) to see what had wandered through the camp during the hours of darkness.
Being out in the bush is my ‘happy place’. Being in the bush with a group of students is an even happier place for me…especially when I return home with new knowledge and experiences that will become memories in time to come. Thanks to all the LFGA staff, trainers and students for making me feel welcome. (you can just see my reflection in the wing mirror)
To find out more about the courses on offer, click on the logo.
I interviewed Mark Stavrakis and Pioneer Moyo back in July 2020. To watch the interview, click on this link: https://youtu.be/ob8J2dMZjMk
The answer to the question posed earlier in this post…
It is the track of an Egyptian Goose landing and then walking away!
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