What could be more of a white-knuckle thrill than getting a glimpse of Africa's most famous mammals, the Big 5, in person? This could be your adventure if you’re ready to head out and track them when on a self-drive safari in Africa. Where a self-driving experience is possible, and wildlife is all around you, the pull of the wild is very strong. Whether you're a photographer, holiday-maker or animal lover, you'll benefit from having some tracking skills, an experienced guide and lots of patience and commitment in order to find these majestic creatures out in nature; hopefully doing more than just snoozing in the sun.
Tracking wildlife in the wilderness
Finding creatures based on their unique signatures - bent twigs, scattered leaves, spoor - is a subtle skill which requires coaching. You need to know a little about the behaviour of the animal, as well as the tracks left in their wake. You'll also need some survival training in order to assure you own safety.
African Conservation Experience - For invaluable experience and training, this course is an excellent cover of all the basics. You'll learn general trailing skills, as well as how to take care of your safety and recognise mammal patterns and movements. The end of this course grants you an authentic cyber tracker level 1 certificate.
Tracking lions and leopards
King of the jungle - the lion
Creeping through the grass whilst a big lion gets on its haunches to pounce on a zebra would be the ultimate tracking experience. However, the need to have patience is especially important here, as "flat cats" can be inactive for up to 20 hours at a time. Leopards, reclusive and solitary - as well as nocturnal - can be just as tricky to see in action without waiting.
If you want more than tail-flicking, comatose cats, it will take some time. Ideally, start your journey in the early morning or late afternoon, as lions are most active at this time. Make a quick analysis of the group - is there a kill? Are they moving? Are their cubs around? This will help you figure out the likelihood of activity.
These big cats often become restless before a hunt. You'll notice agitation, pacing, then without warning the entire pride will be on the move. Follow at a distance of at least 500 m off. Keep an eye out for twitchy prey, which may be as far as 2 km away.
Not being creatures of a herd, black and white rhinos can be more difficult to spot than you would imagine. This is especially true if it's hot, arid or drizzling as this can affect how fresh their dung looks and in turn how far away they are. They also tend to take catnaps hidden away in bushes. Keep your eyes peeled for spoor and approach them downwind so that you don’t startle them, which can make them aggressive.
Elephants and buffalo
A baby elephant wanders between its parents for safety
Herd creatures are among the easiest to track, banding together in plain sight to feast upon the trees and grasses. All you really need is to frequent the areas they’re most commonly found in, such as the local waterhole (buffalo frequent these - sometimes 300 at a time).
Learning basic tracking techniques could have you spotting your favourite mammal in no time and help to keep you safe if you’re successful!