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How to identify animal tracks

Animal tracking in itself is an ancient art. To improve your track interpretation skills, there are a few things you should take into consideration. Make sure you take the time to carefully observe the characteristics of each track before making a conclusion.

We have identified the following important questions to ask:

  • In what direction is the track facing?
  • What is the true length of the track? This will play a major role in narrowing down your options.
  • Identify whether the track belongs to an insect, bird, reptile, amphibian or mammal tracks.
Blue-wildebeest-track-notes_Alex-van-den-heever
Blue wildebeest track

If your answer is yes to the following questions, then you need to narrow your search down even more:

1.  Does it have hooves?

  • Are they cloven hooves?
  • Are the cloven hooves situated very tightly together or have they splayed apart?
  • Are the hoof’s edges straight or concave?
  • Where is the widest point of the hoof?

2.  Does it have claws?

  • How long are the claws?
  • How many claws do you see?
  • Is the claw long or short?

3.  Does it have toes?

  • How many toes?
  • Are the toes situated tightly together or are they splayed out?
  • What is the shape and size of the toes?
  • What is the toe arrangement (is it symmetrical or not)?

Further questions to ask:

  • Does it have a main pad?
  • What is the landscape or habitat where this track is found? This info can be very helpful in eliminating some options.
  • What is the animal’s behaviour? Has it been walking, trotting, bounding or galloping?
  • Is it a group or a solitary creature?
  • Finally, you try and find its droppings. Hopefully, this will help you with positive identification.
Brown-Hyena-front-and-hind-foot-tracks-Brian-Rode
(Photo by Brian Rode)

Brown Hyena tracks

It is very important to base your identification on facts, evidence and logic. Always be flexible when making conclusions, especially if you are faced with new facts. Once you are 100% certain of the evidence, then it is safe to make a conclusion.

Always make sure you have a reputable tracking field guide handy. The book will make your identification so much easier, especially once you have eliminated the various options by asking the above-mentioned questions.

Gerhard Delport, a past EcoTracker student, gave the following advice:

“Do not be afraid to get dirty. Get down on your knees and have a close look at the tracks.  It is important to take your time… You can make a mistake by being too quick on the trigger when trying to identify tracks.”

Our next 14-day EcoTracker course, starting 31 August 2016, promises to change your whole perception of animal tracking and trailing.

“It was a real pleasure being taught by Innocent and Norman. They really were extremely knowledgeable and I really learnt a lot – They are good teachers. 

I may even do the same course again next year or perhaps even a 14-day one it was so informative.

The only problem now is that whenever I walk anywhere in any type of bush or veldt I walk with my eyes glued to the ground!” Anthony Lesar

About the Author:
Picture of Annemi Zaaiman

Annemi Zaaiman

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