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If you are looking for an extraordinary experience or want to try something different with your next visit to Mabalingwe Game Reserve, you might want to consider looking at clues to the presence of wildlife. Sometimes you do not have to see wildlife to appreciate their presence but this can be challenging if you do not know what to look for. Every species has their own set of clues they leave behind which makes the anticipation of discovering various wildlife even more exciting and enjoyable.

It is important to consider all the signs and use all of your senses when you want to identify an animal. When focusing on mammals, the main clues they leave behind can be discovered by looking at their tracks, dung and behavioural signs.


What is a track?
Tracks can be defined as markings left in soil or mud. Track identification can become a specialized talent but for casual game viewing purposes, tracks that are easy to spot even from a moving vehicle in soft sand or mud can be of great value.

How do mammals walk?
Animals have different ways in which they place their feet and different ways in which they stand to support their body. The part of the foot that is in contact with the ground usually bears all the weight and will determine what its tracks will look like. Some wildlife has short bones in their feet to carry the weight of the body and the whole foot will be planted on the ground to leave a mark. Other wildlife have longer bones in their feet and the weight will be carried by the toes or fingers and by having less contact with the ground, they have less resistance. The last category is wildlife that walks only on the tips of its toes and is usually covered in hooves.

How to number mammal feet?
Usually, mammals have a maximum of five toes which are numbered one being on the inside and five being on the outside.

Different types of tracks:

Other types of tracks include tracks made by plants, snakes, aquatic invertebrate larvae or birds.



Dung can be used to identify certain species, but before you go into detail, it is important to know the major groups based on appearance and what you can learn from it.

Different types of dung:



There are various ways to know that an animal has been present in an area. Some signs are more distinguished and easier to notice than others. Examples include damage to vegetation, excavations, markings with secretions, or food-remains.

Damage to branches lying around uprooted trees or bark missing from trees is usually caused by messy feeders like elephants. Elephants are also known to dig up sand in an attempt to reach water that later becomes big holes in riverbeds. Mud on tree trunks can be the cause of termites or rubbing by mammals with scant body hair. Some mammals may mark their territories with secretions seen as creamy deposits on grass stalks. Dead animals seen in trees together with claw marks and pieces of hair stuck in the bark of a tree are often the work of the leopard. Most animal species will roll in the dirt and this can be seen by small barren patches when the soil condition is changed by something like a natural event. Different sizes and shapes of holes can also leave clues behind whether it was used for shelter or linked to feeding. Clumps of fur are mostly the result of fur-balls coughed up by predators or even owls by looking at various shapes, sizes, and rigidity.

Last, but not least, it is sometimes possible to determine if an animal died naturally or if it has been killed. There are a lot of different factors to consider but looking for bloodstains or stomach content and any surrounding tracks of prey, hoof or horn can help you draw conclusions.

By learning the behavioral signs of different species, it becomes easier to distinguish what type of animal has been in the area and what events took place. If you combine all the different factors in identifying signs of wildlife you might even be lucky enough to track the animal’s whereabouts.

There is a vast amount of information available on wildlife signs and tracking. You can find it online, by downloading an app or buying a good book. It makes for a fun and educational family outing!

Sources: Beat about the bush mammals (Trevor Carnaby) Wildlife of Southern Africa (Edited by Vincent Carruthers)

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