Tracking is a Form of Art.

It’s a cool morning and I grab my coffee flask, flees jacket and camera. As the sun peaks over the dam wall, we lace up our boots and off we go into the veld in search of fresh signs of what happened the previous night...

There is nothing quite like tracking and trailing and as Norman Chauke put’s it:

“Tracking an animal is like playing an instrument but to play the instrument you need to be able to read the tracks. The end result is a beautiful song”

Right then and there I knew that there must be more to this ancient art than we may think…

Learning the Art of Tracking and Trailing

Since my journey with EcoTraining started in June last year as a media intern I have been privileged to spend a lot of time on foot with some of the best trackers in the industry. While filming and photographing some incredible moments I was literally walking, living, and learning amongst legends. I only realised this as I opened my mind to this foreign instrument these trackers were playing so well. I had to forget everything I thought I knew and allow the new knowledge to seep into my brain like a softly falling rain, although sometimes it felt like it was pouring down.

Photographs © Christoff Els

I quickly learned to listen and observe the small details. From mud on rubbing posts to posts to oxpeckers flying overhead. All these factors come together in harmony to shape the magnificent orchestra I have learned to know as tracking. I don’t consider myself a good tracker at all, but since working with individuals like Norman Chauke, Renias Mhlongo and Alex van den Heever my sense of awareness in the bush have increased remarkably. Thanks to someone with the gift to teach I’ve gained a bigger appreciation for the phenomenal work they do, simply by going along and filming them while going to work!

Photographs © Christoff Els

Leopard Encounter on Foot

I will never forget the day I was asked to go with Norman and Michael Anderson to follow up on a leopard that caught a warthog that morning. As we approached the last know spot where the leopard was seen as it caught the warthog the picture slowly started coming together as Norman was leading and pointing out drag marks through the bush. I do not wear a heart rate watch but on that walk, my heart was thumping like a drum as we slowly walked through the bush. I was so focused on stepping softly that I did not notice the camera is not recording… As Murphy’s law goes at this critical moment the leopard jumped from behind a bush about 3 meters from us and ran away. By the time my nervous thumb started recording the leopard was long gone but left us with a moment of comradery as we were successful. Well, everyone except for the guy behind the camera! The thing that amazes me the most is that this leopard was probably watching us the whole time, and not one of us could spot him up until we almost walked past him. This will forever be one of my favourite moments that sparked the enthusiasm in me for tracking animals and learning their behaviour.

Experiencing the Art of Tracking

When I am back in the city, I suddenly notice things I have never noticed before like a breeding pair of Spotted Eagle Owls in our suburb and the tracks of a Grey Duiker on our mountain biking park. When my friend from Centurion sends me a voice note I hear the Woodlands Kingfisher calling in the background. This was all because of an interest in tracks and understanding them. Nothing is more special knowing that Africa is so rich in local knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation and experiencing a small part of this art of tracking has been such an honour.

Even if you have a special interest in one specific thing such as tracking or birds, you will soon see that everything is linked to each other one way or another. I could never have dreamt that I would be able to learn so much about nature while doing my job, it is truly a unique experience waking up to the sounds of nature, stepping out of your tent into your office. As I am sitting at home now, I’m already thinking of the next time I’ll be tracking with these masters of the bush.

“I always tell people it’s a way of living, this is how my life should be. Always tracking” – Norman Chauke.

Even though I have yet to do a course with EcoTraining I feel the art of tracking is one of the modules that will forever be my favourite.

Our next EcoTracker Course: Animal Tracks and Tracking starts on the 12th of June 2021, for those interested please contact EcoTraining at [email protected] for more information.

About the Author: 

Christoff Els, a formerly Media Intern and currently working as a Content Producer for EcoTraining.