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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Trainer

On the trail: wildlife sightings on foot

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

This blog was written by Francois Theron, Head Trainer at our SAWC Campus near the Kruger National Park. Francois is especially passionate about animal track and sign, and trailing wildlife on foot. Let’s learn more from his expertise!

3 min read

Track & sign and trailing: what’s it all about?

A person is squatting next to a dirt track, holding a stick and pointing it towards the earth. There are scuff marks in the sand: an example of track and sign interpretation in action.

On each Bushwise course, our students are exposed to the art of tracking. We train them in track and sign (understanding how to interpret messages left behind by animals) and trailing (following an animal’s tracks to try and find it without disturbing it). 

These skills are truly a form of art. It’s the ability not only to correctly identify a track, but also to successfully follow that track. It’s something that you cannot learn in books or by listening to someone else explaining how to do it, you have to physically go out in the bush and do it yourself. And with tracking – like many other things in life – it’s where you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. 

For a period of about two weeks, Bushwise teaches its students the foundation of tracking and trailing. Some of them will show the natural ability for the art of tracking. We teach them how to successfully track an animal and how to handle a potentially dangerous situation once the animal has been tracked. 

A Bushwise students shows their guests a track in the sand, on an assessment drive. Wildlife tracking is an essential part of becoming a successful field guide.

At Bushwise we physically take the students out on mentored trails to teach the importance of not disturbing the animals in their natural environment, and how to safely walk their guests through the bush. These mentored trails will give students the opportunity to log both hours on foot and dangerous encounters – which count towards completing their FGASA Trails Guide qualification. 

It also means that when Bushwise alumni approach dangerous game on foot, they will be mentored to a level where they instinctively start taking things like the direction of the sun and wind, the animal group structure and the animal’s activities into consideration while trailing. 

A group of Bushwise students and their trainer on a trailing walk. The bush around them is vibrant and green and it looks like an early morning, with cascading light coming in sideways.

So, what does it mean to go on a trail? Well firstly to become a trails guide you will have to be mentored on trails on how to approach potentially dangerous game and if you do approach them or walk your guests into sighting, how to do it safely and with as little disturbance as possible to the animal. The main aim is to view the potentially dangerous animal without disturbing that animal’s natural behaviour and give your guests that feeling of viewing dangerous game on foot. 

For me, going out on trail instead of an open vehicle safari creates a feeling of being more exposed to the bush and that you connect with the natural environment on a different level. You start noticing more sounds and seeing smaller things that you would have not noticed on a vehicle bound safari. This opens your senses, and your natural instincts slowly start coming back. 

A man looks across to another, who is squatting over a dirt road and looking down at the ground. There are other people in the background doing similar things. This is part of a track and sign evaluation.

Although trails guides are required to carry rifles in areas where you will find potentially dangerous animals, this is only as a very last precautionary measure. The trails guide’s abilities to read the bush and interpret early warning signals of dangerous game is vitally important. 

This is where your skills of identifying tracks, bird calls that might indicate the presence of dangerous animals, feeding signs left behind by animals, smells etc. come into play. These all give you the advantage of track and encounter animals successfully and safely. 

Want to learn how to track an animal successfully in the African bushveld? Join a Bushwise course and this could be part of your career!


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