It is no doubt that I have witnessed countless top-class sightings in the bush. Admittedly, many of these happened without even having to go searching too far. However, there are days when I have to put in a considerable effort to track down what I’m hoping to find.
The best way to track an animal is to head off to the exact spot it was last seen. Animals do not fly, so following the footprints should eventually take you to the new location of the animal. Sometimes this is easier said than done. When an animal walks down a dirt road, providing the road conditions are clear, it will leave very obvious directional tracks. As soon as that animal leaves the road and moves through a thicket or grassland, the whole situation changes. What clues does one look for now?
Sometimes the animal may leave other clues like fresh scat or dung, territorial scent markings, mud from a recent mud bath or potentially a bloody trail if it had been hunting. Sometimes one might get audio from the animal in question or warning calls from other animals that may have spotted a predator.
I spent a late afternoon trying to track down a cheetah that had been left lying next to a road earlier that morning. It was a scorching hot day, so my thoughts were that the feline would not be too far from the last spot. I headed straight to the area. Nothing was to be found. My tracker and I picked up some tracks of where the cheetah had moved around. It seemed as if it was deliberately dancing around to confuse us. Did this mean it had gone hunting during the heat of the day? Had it gone to search for water? Was it chased off by a larger predator?
Sometimes simply knowing the lay of the land and thinking where an animal might head off to next may work in your favour. As the circling tracks were leading us nowhere I took a different approach. I knew that there was a large clearing not far away, just across from a small waterhole. I decided to head off in that direction, hoping for the best.
In the middle of the clearing my tracker spotted something lying in the grass. We approached and with uncontainable smiles we found the cheetah. As we got closer we could see it panting frantically.
This cheetah had indeed made an impala kill during the heat of the day. The feast had already begun. The cheetah took some shade and managed to scan the surrounding clearings while trying to deal with its bulging belly.
The sun was hanging low on the horizon and this meant one thing for the cheetah. A keen eye would need to be kept as nocturnal predators would soon be lurking around. Before I could even finish thinking about whether a hyena would rock up or not, a rather young hyena arrived. It had obviously gone scouting as the temperature dropped. It spotted the cheetah from around fifty meters away. The hyena paused, assessed the situation and decided it was time to feast.
The young hyena rushed in, all guns blazing. The cheetah shot up in a flash, gave a highly disgusted hiss and spent no time lingering around the carcass.
Even though the hyena was still really young, the cheetah knows that one quick bite from the hyena could cause major damage and render it unable to hunt again. The cheetah already had a full belly and decided that the risk was not greater than the reward.
The hungry hyena wasted no time tucking into the impala carcass. Although he went scouting alone, there could be other clan members nearby and they would not hesitate to swoop in and steal an easy meal. I witnessed yet again how efficiently these hyenas are at ripping a carcass to shreds within a matter of a few minutes. The cheetah decided to call it quits all together. He moved out of the area and the hyena managed to feast in peace and quiet.