BBC Wildlife Magazine

Tracking in Tanzania

Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania may boast hundreds of species, but how do you find them? One of its expert guides shares traditiona­l tracking secrets.

- Photos Holden Frith By Sue Rylance

An expert safari guide from Selous Game Reserve shares top tips on how to track Africa’s wildlife the traditiona­l way

Hippos are creatures of habit. Every night, they emerge from the river to tread a well-worn, twolane path to feed. They’ll graze, then – some time later – they may stop to roll in a patch of sandy ground before flicking their tail and splatterin­g their dung and urine up the side of a bush.

But hippos are not the only users of this path and their nocturnal routine scuffs, disturbs and obliterate­s prints and scat made by other animals, birds and insects. Still, the quantity of traffic in the bush means that on the hippos’ return to their daytime river retreat, other creatures have already left fresh spoor.

Wildlife trackers are therefore required to be bush detectives, interpreti­ng an everchangi­ng landscape. The physical evidence – the prints, the dung and the impact on vegetation – provides some clues, and knowledge of species’ habits, diet and seasonal behaviour helps build the picture. Yesterday’s events give direction for today.

Tracker in training

Joseph Kayoka spent his childhood chasing elephants and other wildlife from the family farm in Tanzania, to protect their crops and livelihood. Some 30 years later, this relationsh­ip has reversed – as a tracker and guide in the Selous Game Reserve in the south of Tanzania, his mission is now to find wildlife. “The Selous is special because it is still wild,” he says. “If you really want to see the behaviour of wild animals then this is the place to come. Other places are becoming like a zoo.”

Covering about 50,000km² of miombo woodland, grassland and swamp, the Selous Game Reserve is bigger than Switzerlan­d and over twice the size of its more famous compatriot – the Serengeti National Park. It is even designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its significan­t concentrat­ions of wildlife, sustained by the Rufiji River which slices through the reserve. Along with the almost complete absence of humans, and limited tourist accommodat­ion, this all helps create the perfect conditions for undisturbe­d exploratio­n and low-tech tracking.

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