Tracking is an ancient but endangered art form. It’s not just about following animal footprints, but interpreting the signs, sounds and even smells of the bush. A Kruger walking safari in South Africa will show you how experienced trackers can read the ground like a book – amazing!
We were lucky enough to be accompanied on our Greater Kruger walking safari by one of the best trackers in the business, Renias. Together with our guide, Matt, he planned to demonstrate how to find animals the old-fashioned way.
Matt drove, with Renias on the tracker’s seat on the front bumper. From there he would be our early-warning system, able to see tracks in time to halt us before we drove over them.
Renias soon showed that he had an almost uncanny ability to understand events in the bush as though he’d personally witnessed them. We were hopeful that we’d at least pick up some of the basics, to be apprentices to his sorcery.
Before long, Renias silently held up a hand; he’d spotted tracks he wanted to show us. After checking carefully all around, he jumped down and beckoned us to join him outside the vehicle. Renias asked us what we could see; when I pointed out tracks that looked like they’d been made by a pig, he was delighted. He congratulated me – they were indeed warthog tracks.
Porcupine tracks over the warthog spoor – including marks made by the quills – proved that these tracks were at least several hours old, as porcupine are nocturnal. Warthog in contrast typically spend the night underground, for shelter and to avoid predators. The morning was still delightfully cool, and Renias thought that there was a good chance that this large warthog could still be in his burrow.
Matt shouldered his rifle and, after a quick briefing, we advanced in single file. We instinctively felt we were in the safest of hands.
Renias kept the breeze in our faces at all times as he followed the tracks with one outstretched finger, occasionally releasing a pinch from his small ash bag to confirm the wind direction.
After just 10 minutes, Renias pointed out the entrance to an old warthog burrow. We skirted this in a wide circle, and crouched down behind a termite mound a few metres away.
Renias seemed to have ears as sharp as his eyes – cupping one hand, he nodded vigorously and told us that the warthog was still in his burrow. We’d arrived just in time – a few minutes later, there was a great puff of dust from the mouth of the burrow, and the warthog popped out like a champagne cork. He glanced all around him, shook the dirt out of his mane, and trotted off, tail erect.
Matt explained that warthog make these dramatic exits in case a predator is lurking. To be on foot in Africa, watching master craftsmen at work and then coming close to such a charismatic animal, was a real privilege. The thrill of tracking the warthog all the way to his lair meant that we now had no idea which way to go to find our vehicle. Equally we had no doubts that Renias would easily be able to retrace our footsteps to find it again.