Interpretation of the natural world is a crucial survival skill as old as mankind. Today, an essential tool for conservation is the ability to join-the-dots from evidence left behind by animals to track their whereabouts. Game drives on a private reserve where a mosaic of vegetation lines the dust roads, allow for finding animals within eyesight. The real skill lies in following the slightest clues and venturing into unchartered terrain, where the reward is a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.
Our Shangaan Trackers are an integral part of the Sabi Sabi safari experience and are intimately familiar with the nuances of the bush. They are adept at reading and interpreting subtle signs and able to predict where an animal is by thinking many steps ahead and then working backwards, narrowing down its possible location. The angle of tracks (called ‘spoor’), placement of droppings, position of misplaced stones, bruised vegetation, trampled grass, alarm calls and even specks of blood create a timeline in the mind of a highly experienced tracker.
Perched right in front of the safari vehicle as the ‘eyes and ears’ of all in attendance, these stalwarts have nerves of steel. First in line to experience close encounters with wild animals, without the protection of the game drive vehicle, these vanguards work in tandem with the ranger who relies heavily on their guidance when approaching high-profile sightings. With subtle hand movements that quietly advise and direct the ranger, steering the vehicle away from impassable thickets, craters and boulders, the tracker becomes the conductor of the safari, ultimately ensuring that all on the vehicle have the best possible vantage point of the wildlife wonders about to unfold.
Without their keen observation, honed eyesight, intuition and fluency in the language of the bush, we would see much less while out on safari. The incredible knowledge of our trackers encompasses the full ecological spectrum – from wildlife behaviour, extolling the virtues of plants and trees on the reserve and passing on generations-old wisdom of the medicinal use and spiritual beliefs of flora. They are some of the most incredible storytellers when relaying their narrative of tracking animals on foot, coming face to face with all the drama and wonder of the bush. Their interpretative skills stem from their upbringing where they were taught from a young age to read and respect the environment.
One of our Earth Lodge trackers, Candy Hlatshwayo, tells the story of when he was a young boy growing up in the Lowveld area, “I was a cattle herder for my father who owned a large herd. My job was to ensure that the cattle were looked after and that they were brought back at night to the kraal. If I did not do this I would be in trouble. One night, one of the cows was missing so myself and a friend went tracking and based on the skills that we had learnt and mastered as young boys in the bush, we found the cow and brought it back safely. Needless to say, I was very relieved!”
Highly respected by their peers, community, rangers, guests and the Sabi Sabi team, some of the members in our tracker team have stories to share of their connection to the earth and to nature that span over the last four decades, since them joining the reserve.
True masters of their art, armed with a lifetime of knowledge of the African bush, we salute our trackers for the vital role they play in the safari experience.