Escape strategies: when tracking goes wrong
Tracking an animal successfully is a skill that needs to be equally matched by knowing how to make a safe retreat. “The golden rule is: don’t run. Stop, stay still, make eye contact, then slowly move away. If you run, you make yourself prey,” says Joseph.
Dangerous encounters do occur. Joseph recalls an expedition to seek out blackand-white colobus monkeys, with five guests and a ranger in tow. “I was roaming around a tree to see where the monkeys were hiding. I looked up and there was a leopard on a branch looking down at us. I was very close [about 1.5m]. I saw his eyes first, then he showed me his canine teeth. When the leopard shows his canine teeth, it means he is ready for anything.” What Joseph did then is perhaps counterintuitive: “I did not move my head, but made eye contact with the leopard, while telling the guests to go back slowly.” Joseph clearly won the staring competition – the leopard jumped down and ran away.
The secret to a safe escape is to learn the warning signs exhibited by animals. They are reversible, so a leopard wafting its tail may not progress to the next stage if a comfortable distance is achieved.
When we finally encountered our elephant, he was happily feeding, but the jeep came too close and he progressed to the second stage of warning. Joseph explained: “When you see the elephant’s penis coming out, and starting to drag down, then he is not completely happy with the distance”. That is the first warning sign. Next, the elephant brought his ears out wide – the second sign. “He is making himself look bigger.” The final stage, before the charge (and your last chance)
is the trump.
In a stand-off with a leopard, don’t panic. Slow and steady movements are key.