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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Following the signs: Learning to track elephants in the wild

This blog was written by Kayla Pieterse, a Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. Each student takes a turn as camp manager, and writing a blog is part of the experience.


3 min read


A long, hot day. We walked almost 13 kilometers that day. Where could they possibly be? My body was exhausted and my water was running low. We kept going, still staying strong. Being cut by buffalo thorns was not the best. 


This was the day of trailing with Colin Patrick, the legend. It all started with a cold morning drive in search for some tracks that were fresh. We suddenly stopped and there was a small branch laying on the side of the road. How is that even a track? How can Colin even say it was an elephant? How do we trust this? Those were all questions running through our mind. We got out of the vehicle and we started walking to the other side of the road. It was magical, there it was, a beautiful, clear track imprinted in the sand. So, we started walking and following those tracks. Each student got a chance to do this trail. It wasn’t easy as it was all of the students' first time doing this. 



The time went by and everyone got used to how it works, what to look for and what signs to follow. Then my turn came. We were on the road, the tracks were crystal-clear… well, not for me. I could recognise one or two tracks of this beauty, but for some reason my eye just wasn’t used to this yet. Colin saw the confusion in my eyes and asked the next student to join me and help. It was as if he just knew exactly where this elephant was walking. I felt embarrassed. Colin said he could go on and I should fall back in line. We only had one turn so my heart started racing. 


I wasn’t sure if I failed or not, but I knew that it didn't go as planned. Everyone else did so well. How do they see these tracks and signs so easily? I was hoping to get called to try again, but time ran out and we went back to camp for breakfast. The afternoon was also allocated for trailing and we went back. The remaining students all got their turn. There was one student remaining, it was as if we started running, because there was fresh elephant dung, fresh leaves that were eaten, and there were clear tracks. The adrenaline was real; out of breath and no more water left at this stage. They are close, I can feel it! Colin called out my name. 



This is it; it is your time to shine, girl. Colin said, “take it slow,” but after that adrenaline rush, I couldn’t even think straight. Suddenly, all those tracks became super clear, the dung was everywhere. Finally, we got to a river. I knew this time I did much better with this trail. As if I just knew where they were. So, Colin told me I did a good job, but they are on the other side of the river and we don’t have time to go there now. I was confident that I would’ve gotten them if we kept going, but everyone was too exhausted. It was a long and hot day. My confidence got boosted and I felt as if I could find anything. I was proud of myself.  As I should be, because a few days later I got a tracker level one qualification.



Time will tell and even if everything doesn’t always work out the first time, do as Colin says – get back up and try again. Press your reset button and take things slow. Never doubt your first instinct. 


Want to learn to track wildlife? Learn more about Bushwise courses, and apply now to begin your adventure in the bush!


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