Reading time: 2.20 mins

Early in our careers as guides, Renias and I received a radio call that a female leopard was seen feeding on a bushbuck kill.

The announcement was specific about the location.

As we neared, Renias gestured for me to turn left.

‘That’s not the place,’ I said. ‘It’s to the right’.

‘Ok, but I think there’s a leopard over there,’ replied Renias indifferently, pointing to a large jackalberry tree.

‘Jika ximatsi’, he said.

By now our guests were raining questions on me. They were VIP’s and I felt compelled to show them a good sighting. And we had a reliable report which I intended to use.

There was no time to waste following Renias’s hunch.

‘Jika ximatsi..ximatsi means left’ repeated Renias, now irate with my apparent contrariness.. and the guests had noticed his displeasure with me.

Not wanting to make a scene I grudgingly swung the Land Rover eastwards – following his suggestion to go left.

About halfway along Renias said, ‘hatlisa (faster), the leopard is moving now’.

Moments later a magnificent female leopard emerged from the woodland. The guests were awestruck. ‘Renias is a genius!’ pronounced one of them. “He speaks squirrel!” exclaimed another.

Incredibly, he used a tree squirrel’s faint danger call to determine the leopard’s presence and to interpret its behaviour.

I came to learn that it’s nearly impossible to successfully track a leopard without considering the alarm calls made by other animals.

The truth is that I had no chance of finding it myself. If it weren’t for Renias, our VIPs would likely not have seen a leopard.

I was oblivious to an entire dimension of nature’s language. And I wasn’t even aware that I was unaware. I also lacked the technical ability to recognise the omnipresent chirps of intelligence all around me.

And the pressure to deliver for my guests caused me to become hyper-focused – further impairing my awareness.

Our everyday lives are filled with signals – many of which go totally unnoticed.

My friend Grant Ashfield says, ‘An alarm call is a message from the future – it represents danger, the need to slow down, be vigilant and pay attention’.

And they come in many forms…

Niggling feelings of restlessness, apprehension, or recurring mistakes, maybe the first signs that you’re losing track.

For leaders, dull meetings, poor trust, people operating in silos, and lacking accountability – are clues that the team is in peril.

For organisations, the departure of good people, the entry of a competitor, and diminishing engagement – are signals.

The difficulty is that most signals are as faint as a squirrel’s call among the cacophony of others. And they’re often inconvenient too – the timing doesn’t necessarily suit.

The irony is that warning signs lead to opportunity – either from wisdom gained by avoiding danger, or the realisation of a goal – like finding a leopard.

The biggest threat of all is choosing to ignore the signs. Or being reluctant to act.

Noticing an alarm call is the first step in the journey of change – towards greater prospects.

Expert wildlife trackers rely on nature’s signs to find the animals they pursue. And for their safety.

Spend 5 minutes thinking about alarm calls you may have noticed in the last 24 hours. Can you interpret them, and more importantly, are you prepared to act on them?

Sign up for Tracking Success. We dedicate one of our campfire conversations to discussing alarm calls in our professional lives.

Part 1

Reading time: 2 minutes

COVID 19 has thrust us into unfamiliar territory. How we make decisions during this time is vital. To emerge stronger we must be able to make good decisions despite the uncertainty.

We have much to learn from the world’s finest wildlife trackers. They make informed decisions that help them find the animals they pursue. Especially in difficult and uncertain circumstances, where evidence is often incomplete.

They have learnt to deal with a complex and uncontrollable wild environment.

As a result, they have an above-average success rate in finding animals.

They do not have advisors, instructions or algorithms to rely on. Nature is wordless.

Instead, they rely on technical competence and a superior understanding of the animals that they track.

They are constantly gathering information. This comes from a broad range of sources. Tracks on the ground, bird alarm calls, scents and the presence of other animals, to name a few.

When they find a track there is much to consider. Its age, what the animal is doing, and importantly, the suitability of the terrain for the tracking effort.

Past experiences are used to understand patterns of animal behaviour, which they remember. Past events also provide scope for a much wider range of decision-making options.

This is true situational analysis.

The Art Of Decision Making - Tracking Success

In 2019 Renias Mhlongo successfully tracked pumas in extraordinarily difficult conditions in Patagonia, Chile.

They make extensive use of inductive reasoning. From a single track, they are able to speculate what the animal is doing. With remarkable accuracy. To achieve this, they will construct an explanation from the signs they’ve observed, and then actively move to verify its validity.

Expert trackers develop deep ecological literacy. This allows them to link seemingly unrelated pieces of information – in a single picture. One that makes sense.

To form this mental image, the tracker must be constantly answering three golden questions.

For the beginner these questions are deliberate. But as the tracker builds experience, this becomes less conscious. Almost second nature.

Here the three questions;

  1. What are the tracks saying?

The tracker must have clarity on what he is tracking. Recognising and interpreting the details of the trail is vital to staying on track. The difference between a black and white rhino’s track on hard ground is minuscule. A lack of competence with detail has far-reaching consequences.

  1. What is the behaviour?

Knowing the animal’s habits is key. Whether the rhino is feeding or patrolling its territory is a crucial insight for the tracker. The best trackers are intimate with the subtleties of animal behaviour. This knowledge is used to anticipate and leapfrog ahead.

  1. How is the landscape influencing the animal’s movement?

Animals never move randomly. Water, food and shelter affect where they go. The physical environment has a profound effect on the animal’s choice of route. And the tracker will constantly investigate areas of greatest opportunity. And by contrast, avoid areas of potential danger.

The tracker must still follow the tracks to find the animal. But by answering these questions he develops a picture of what the animal is doing, and how to get close to it.

Expert trackers teach us that successful decision-making should include the following 3 reflections:

  • Attention to detail (tracks)
  • Consideration for others & one’s values (behaviour)
  • Regard for the circumstances & consequences (environment)

To learn more, contact us for a demo of our newly formed Tracking Success interactive documentary. It’s a virtual learning adventure that uses the ancient art of wildlife tracking as a metaphor for tracking organisational goals.

 

The Art Of Decision Making - Tracking Success