Safari Guide of the Year 2022. Track and sign.

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“The first track is the end of a string. At the far end, a being is moving; a mystery, dropping a hint about itself every so many feet, telling you more about itself until you can almost see it, even before you come to it. The mystery reveals itself slowly, track by track, giving its genealogy early to coax you in. Further on, it will tell you the intimate details of its life and work, until you know the maker of the track like a lifelong friend.” (Tom Brown Jr., The Tracker)

 

 

 

For me, the most interesting activity at Safari Guide of the Year is always Track and Sign.

To watch captains of the guiding industry set out a course for the finalists is always exciting.

For those who are able to read what the animals, insects and birds have left behind is fascinating to behold. It is like reading a newspaper for those who can.

And for those who cannot, it is like reading a newspaper in a foreign language that you don’t understand.

 

 

The MD of FGASA, Michelle du Plessis, who although a judge at Safari Guide of the Year, was not required for this particular exercise.

Michelle had every right to smile as the Safari Guide of the Year 2022 has set the benchmark for years to come.

 

 

 

Mike Karantonis, who founded Safari Guide of the Year back in 2011, contemplating how far the event has come…or perhaps he is focused on a track he is trying to identify?

 

 

 

Juan and James set out to make certain that the tracks and signs chosen are identifiable without ambiguity.

 

 

 

And when you see Lucas head out to look for tracks…be afraid, be very afraid.

Actually, Lucas is one of the most humble trackers that I have met and is always willing to share information if one is prepared to listen and look.

 

 

 

The finalists not only had to identify tracks, but scat featured as part of the 30 tracks and signs they were required to identify for this particular exercise.

This is jackal scat, but it can easily be confused with several other species that are found in this reserve.

A question that often arises is: “Is there a difference between scat and dung”? And the simple answer is “No, there is no difference”.

However, scat is used to describe evidence of wild animals, while dung is associated with domestic animals.

 

 

 

Old lion tracks. To make the challenge complicated, not all the tracks used were fresh.

Some, like this lion track, had been there for a while and had suffered at the hands of nature and wind erosion.

Each track that the judges want to be identified is circled in this fashion so that there can be no misunderstanding about what is required.

“Many tracking books use the analogy of the earth as paper, the animals as writers, and the tracks and trails as the letters and words left behind for those who are fluent in the language and willing to pause and read.  Tracks and trails are truly a script for those with trained senses, and they tell many stories rich in drama, suspense, mystery, love and sometimes horror.” (Mark Elbroch, Mammal Tracks and Sign)

 

 

 

It is not all serious, and there was time for a chat and some jokes while Juan and the finalists gather to compare notes about what had been already identified.

 

 

 

The stick says it all…

“I want you to identify what is inside the circle”, is what Juan is pointing out to Ruvan while Liam looks on.

This is much like an open book exercise in as much as all the finalists can look at the same time, but they cannot discuss what they are looking at with each other.

 

 

 

Cameron, trying not to get down and dirty. He was to eventually be declared the winner of this category.

 

 

 

Solomon and Nico at the beginning of the exercise.

 

 

 

Hunkered down, looking intensely at what is circled in the dust.

Often the problem for the finalists is overthinking the tracks.

Go with your gut and your first impression, but all too often that self-advice is ignored only to be proved correct when the judges share what the tracks are.

 

 

 

Not all the tracks or signs were on the ground!

Here Solomon is looking at frass left behind by caterpillars of moths and butterflies that crawled on the stem of this tree.

And for those, like me, who do not know what frass is, it is, in simple terms, debris or excrement produced by insects. (with thanks to Juan Pinto for this information)

 

 

 

When you have a plethora of photographers all wanting to get ‘that’ shot.

These 4 photographers, well five if you count me having taken their pictures, represent 4 different media outlets.

Safari Guide of the Year 2022 has probably had, by far, the largest media contingent in its history. And this enables FGASA to have access to a variety of different styles and shots that it is almost impossible for a single photographer to capture.

 

 

 

James taking a break from all his efforts to not only work with the finalists but keep the media and the guests controlled so that they do not walk over the tracks chosen for the exercise.

 

 

 

Juan explained to the finalists what the tracks actually were and if incorrect, what to look for in future.

Although the finalists knew immediately what they had got right and wrong, the winner was only announced at the Awards dinner on the last evening of the competition.

 

 

 

Time to bring through the guests.

 

 

 

Liam, rejoicing that the activity is complete…

 

 

With thanks to all the sponsors, without whom, Safari Guide of the Year 2022 would not be the success that it was!

 

 

 

 

 

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