The art of tracking!

The Lion Guardians have been conducting ‘spoor counts’ for almost a year now (spoor is a word meaning animal tracks) as part of their weekly routine. Each Guardian has two set routes of roughly 6km long and he walks each route once a week.

From the very beginning of the route to the end, the Guardian makes a note of how many tracks he has found of particular animals (i.e. prey that lion often eat, and large predators). The spoor counts help to scientifically identify the numbers of animals living in different parts of the ecosystem and show where and when the animals migrate. Here is Lion Guardian Kamunu doing his spoor count. Though he knows the tracks very well, he is using a visual guide as a scientific tool, so that we can verify the tracks he has identified.

 Lion Guardian Kamunu-looks-at-tracks

The art of tracking is not as simple as just walking along, spotting some tracks and writing the number of animals onto a data sheet. Each Guardian needs to be 100% sure of the identity of the track before he can record it, and some tracks can be very similar, especially on different soil surfaces.

A good example of this is the difference between a leopard and a juvenile lion track. Both can be the same size and very similar in shape, so how do the Guardians know the difference?

 Lion-and-leopard tracks Lion Guardians

As you can see above, the shape of the toes and the pad is slightly different, but if the track is not on good soil the toes may not show very clearly.    

 Lion Guardian tracks

Can you tell which is the track of the lion and leopard in the photo above?

By closely looking at the shapes of the pads, size of toes, distance of toes from pad etc, the Guardians can come to the correct conclusion every time and have no doubt in recording it on their data sheets.

 Lion Guardians Lion-pads

So, getting the identity correct every time is one skill, but imagine how difficult it is when a Guardian comes across an area completely covered with lots of zebra tracks going in different directions and he has to work out how many zebra passed there!

In this situation, the Guardian starts by finding the tracks of the two fore feet and the two rear feet of one zebra. He makes a note of where they are on the ground, then looks for a different zebra track near it, and continues to add up the sets of tracks until there are none left. Here is Kutata marking the numbers of tracks he has found on his data sheet.

 Lion Guardian Kutata-records-the-numbers-of-spoor-on-his-data-form

This is a very tricky subject but with the excellent traditional tracking knowledge the Guardians have, they continue to produce accurate results of the animals which the Maasai share their land with.

Keep up the good work Lion Guardians!


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