Alex with the hunter-gathers

Reading time: 2.30 secs

Hunter-gatherers practised the most successful lifestyle strategy in human history – lasting some 200,000 years, so what is the Hunter-gatherer secret?

The Ju/’hoansi trackers in north-western Botswana, with whom Renias and I have spent time, epitomise the modern hunter-gatherer. No longer nomadic, they live in a permanent village and rely somewhat on livestock for protein, but still, hunt by traditional means.

Until about 12,000 years ago humans relied solely on hunting, fishing and foraging.

For the hunter-gatherer, the business of finding food is an important daily activity.

The complex animal sign must be correctly interpreted to secure a meal, or detect danger. A vast number of plant species are also utilised for sustenance and medicinal remedies.

The complex animal sign

Because the environment in which they operate is wordless, hunter-gatherers develop an acute sensitivity for nature’s cues. A subtle change in the pitch of a bird’s call, or a slight turn in humidity, means a great deal to them.

They are experts at noticing. A virtue that extends to their human relationships too.

Although opportunistic they seldom seek to over-exploit. For the Ju/’hoansi hoarding is frowned upon. They understand that their survival is inextricably linked to a thriving, sustainable ecosystem.

This is ecological literacy in action.

Despite the challenging conditions they face to obtain a meal, they work less and enjoy more leisure time than people of industrialised societies. Interestingly, their varied diet makes them healthier too.

Qam Kgamxoo explains the burrowing behaviour of a springhare

Humour is a constant feature of their social interactions. And one doesn’t need to understand their language to get its value!

Historically their societies were classless – all members were born equal – with no permanent leaders. A life of such profound purpose means formalised authority is less important.

If we measure success by physical and mental health, then it can be argued that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is a remarkably successful one.

The Hunter-gatherer secret

So, what happened 12,000 years ago?

Driven by a greater need for food security and perhaps, just convenience, gradually societies began learning how to domesticate crops and animals.

This was the genesis of agriculture and early civilisation. And it had a profound impact on how we live, eat and interact with each other.

A few things happened though. For one, humans began storing more food which increased the quantity people ate. Secondly, it led to large permanent communities in which disease became prevalent.

The Hunter-gatherer secret

Ironically, the shift also coincided with a decrease in the quality of food consumed – a legacy that continues to afflict modern societies to this day.

Most interestingly, the transition to agriculture marked the beginnings of inequality. Because those who controlled the surpluses assumed the power.

Farming also triggered the now-universal belief in hard work and the benefits of profit.

Successful crop cultivation is delicately linked to the seasons – meaning early farmers became more conscious of time – causing the future to take on far greater value.

By contrast, hunter-gatherers tend to focus on their immediate needs.

Successful crop cultivation

The agricultural societies grew rapidly and out-competed the hunter-gatherers in most places.

The original farmers were geographically lucky. Fortunate to live in places with crops and animals that are easily domesticated, which gave them a distinct advantage.

It had nothing to do with intellect or genetics.

In the end, our need for profit, power and convenience spelt the end of the hunter-gatherer age. Even though it meant working harder, less freedom and being more sickly.

The farmers ultimately left us with literature, the arts and technology – which we’ve developed to astonishing levels.

the-hunter-gatherer-secret

The hunter-gatherers left us with a connection to the natural world – which is sadly fading.

Malcolm Gladwell sums it up well, “Praising ourselves for being civilised is no guarantee of survival. We can be law-abiding and peace-loving and tolerant and inventive and committed to freedom and true to our own values and still behave in ways that are biologically suicidal.”

The hunter-gatherer secret is their relationships.

For there is no civilisation without a legitimate partnership with the earth.

The Ju/’hoansi trackers in north-western Botswana

Reading time: 2:10 mins

When Renias and I worked at Londolozi game reserve in the mid-1990s the leopard viewing was exceptional.

We watched them drag kills up trees. And mothers tenderly nursing their young. On one occasion we even walked with a wild leopard as she hunted. With no sign of aggression.

Leopards symbolise intelligence and independence. There’s an intangible sense of power about them.

Their mysterious nature is tempting. We found ourselves wanting to be closer. I had a recurring dream that I made friends with a leopard, which I loved.

It’s the reason why people fly halfway around the world to see one.

But the sightings weren’t always like that.

Dave Varty tells me they were lucky to get even a glimpse of a leopard at Londolozi in the early 1970s. Monkeys alarming in the woodland. Or the remains of an impala carcass hanging in a tree – was the only confirmation they were there.

Today, the Sabi Sands game reserve is synonymous with leopard sightings. A success story that has its origins largely at Londolozi.

How did this happen?

Trail of a leopard dragging a carcass. Photo by Lex Hes

 

Enticing signs of leopards prompted the Londolozi guides to go in search of the secret cat.

And they had an advantage – expert wildlife trackers.

The original leopard tracking team consisted of Elmon Mhlongo, Phineas Mhlongo, and Kimbian Mnisi. A couple of years later Richard Siwela arrived. And in the early 1980s, Renias Mhlongo.

They were the most successful leopard trackers of their time. The ones who tracked them on foot until they found them.

Richard Siwela spent an unbroken 42 years tracking leopards at Londolozi. His success rate was about 70% – at the height of his career. An outstanding achievement when one considers the average of 22% for tracking and finding a leopard.

Richard has successfully tracked more leopards than anyone else in Africa.

 

The original Trackers

Richard Siwela tracking at Londolozi

 

These men crafted a relationship with the world’s most elusive big cat. It is a remarkable story. They were mavericks – achieving what no one else had done before.

They developed trust with wild leopards so that people could view them. Allowing us to share in their mystical lives – for the very first time.

Leopards leave subtle signs difficult to see. Their mercurial ways provide the ultimate challenge for the master tracker.

The team was successful because of their refined tracking skills, intimate knowledge, and sheer tenacity.

Respect for the animal was their main tenet – it’s what made it all possible.

 

The leopards

Leopards on a kill. Photo by David Dampier

 

Over 50 years, an extraordinary connection has immerged between the humans and leopards at Londolozi.

A relationship bound in reverence.

A partnership that allows for a vast sanctuary of wilderness to thrive. And which has inspired so much more.

It’s an example, too, of ancient tracking skills becoming relevant in modern conservation efforts.

To us, the trackers are the heroes. They are legitimate co-creators of an entire industry. The guides who drove the trackers and their guests were also integral to the process of habituating the leopards.

One wonders what other opportunities exist. If we intentionally develop meaningful relationships with our animal kin.

If we can do it with leopards, surely, it’s possible with all nature?

Tracking Success

Use the ancient craft of wildlife tracking to get your team onto the path of performance.

 

Welcome to the world’s first wildlife tracking interactive documentary.

Leaders are searching for innovative ways to stay connected and perform in both a physical and virtual world.

Tracking Success is completely unique. It is designed for business teams that want a rich and highly interactive experience.

Set in the Greater Kruger National Park,  your team’s goal will be to track lion, leopard, and rhino in this wild and natural ecosystem.

You become the tracker.

 

How does it work?

You connect via an online platform. Through a combination of video and storytelling, you become immersed in the activities of an expert wildlife tracking team.

Expert facilitation and campfire discussions link tracking to the real issues your team faces.

 

This virtual tracking simulation takes the form of a branching decision tree where individuals and teams choose their own adventure.

In each scenario, your team will discuss and decide on the best course of action.

 

Participants face the same challenges Alex and Renias faced whilst tracking leopard, lion, and rhino in a difficult environment, with incomplete information.

 

Why Tracking?

Tracking is both an ancient African craft and a modern metaphor.

Each one of us is a born tracker…tracking something important in our lives. The same applies to organisations.

Trackers deal with the complex world of nature, an uncertain and wordless environment.

Their time-tested process helps them navigate successfully the ever-changing conditions in which they operate.

 

You become the tracker

You are an active participant in the complex task of tracking and finding your goal.

Your weigh up the evidence, make the decisions, and live with the consequences.

Finding the animal is in your hands.

 

Delivered virtually or in-person

The programme can be run as a standalone or integrated into an existing agenda.

It is easily adapted to suit your time and learning requirements.

There is no limit to the number of participants.

 

What you will get

A unique learning experience.

A powerful metaphor for improving organisational health.

Facilitated campfire conversations focussing on the five elements of tracking, mastery, trust, decision-making, and others.

An opportunity to refocus on what is most important.

Shared fun with your team!

 

“Alex and Grant take you on a fantastic tracking journey, using the bush tracking metaphor to share stories and insights that have enabled us to continue to develop our ability to both operate as an effective team and progress each of our own personal mastery.
The concept, videography and facilitation come together in a meaningful and very enjoyable few hours.”

Doug Laburn, Lombard Partnerships.

 

 

Renias and I stepped off the aircraft in Punta Arenas, the capital city of the area near the tip of Chile’s southernmost Patagonia region, into a bracing 1ºC. As I got to the top of the stairs to disembark the aeroplane, a baggage handler offered, ‘Welcome to a warm day in Punta Arenas!’ and Renias stared at him disbelievingly, already shivering in his flimsy fleece. Punta Arenas is situated on the Strait of Magellan connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is often used as a base for excursions to Antarctica.

The next day we drove onto a concession that neighbors the famous Torres del Paine National Park. As we drove, we noticed a few vulture-like large birds called Andean condors sitting on the ground ahead in the distance. Their presence, together with that of birds called caracara of the falcon family, was a possible indication of a fresh carcass nearby. Primarily a scavenger like our African vultures, the Andean condor is considered the largest flying land bird in the world, when combining its weight and wingspan, and it has incredible longevity, reaching up to 70 years of age in some cases.

We stopped the vehicle and went to investigate what the condors were feeding on and this took us down a relatively steep slope in the direction of the national park. Our guide, Cristobal Sanchez, looked through his binoculars and said there was a dead sheep and that it was probably killed by a puma. I scanned the landscape with my binoculars and was struck by the similarity of the vegetation to the Karoo, the only exception being that Patagonia has more snow-capped mountains and lakes. We walked up to the sheep’s carcass and saw bits of wool scattered around the kill on the stubby black shrubs that are common to the area.

Renias and I immediately began searching for tracks, hoping to find one of a puma (mountain lion) but the ground was still frozen solid, as was the spilled sheep’s blood, even though it was already 10 am. I had been excited at the prospect of finding and following a puma’s trail, but once we were on the ground it became blatantly clear that it was going to be a very challenging tracking proposition.

The bite marks on the sheep’s neck and evidence of a predator feeding from between the hind legs were clear. The evidence clearly indicated that a large carnivore had killed, or had certainly fed on, that sheep. Even though the puma had likely spent quite some time feeding at the site, we could not make out a single track. Cristobal wanted to keep walking because he felt he had a sense of where the puma might have gone. I asked him to give us some time to explore the area but I sensed his disenchantment of what I’m sure he saw as complete inexperience on our part. The previous evening some of the guides had questioned Renias and I as to how we planned to track in such stony and difficult conditions and my answer was just that we were ‘going to try’. Not a very encouraging response!

‘Here’s a track, Buti,’ Renias said to me, after having scouted the immediate area around the sheep’s carcass for a good few minutes. It was probably the faintest track I’d ever seen and I really had to use my imagination to try to see what Renias was seeing. I could make out two reasonably clear toe impressions, but the rest of the track was exceedingly obscure. Cristobal also looked at the track and I waited for him to challenge us but he simply said, ‘Good,’ which made we wonder if he could even see the track.

That morning, Cristobal was supposed to be orientating us and showing us some of the areas where the Awasi guides believed the pumas were frequenting, but I asked him whether we could follow the track we had found instead. He was under instruction from his boss and I got the sense he didn’t want to disobey him or veer too far off the plans for the day. Following the tracks meant we would be disrupting the plans for the day, but I knew we needed to take full advantage of the opportunity, and being agile in our thought processes and developing optionality in our approach made us good trackers. And that day, in those tracking conditions, represented the chance we needed to take.

With a slight show of indignation, Cristobal agreed to follow us as we tracked the puma. The tracks were not heading in the direction he’d predicted but I agreed with Renias, not only because of where the track was pointing, but I also surmised that as the pumas had been persecuted in that area, they would in all likelihood want to return to the safety of the national park during the day, after having killed a sheep in a place it must have known was dangerous.

We continued on our track and walked along a natural path in a westerly direction, down a slope towards a large river called Las Chinas, which forms the boundary with the national park. ‘There will be a natural crossing point across the river that the pumas will use,’ said Renias to Cristobal. Cristobal agreed and pointed directly ahead. Renias then looked back at me and smiled knowingly. ‘I will find it, mfo,’ he said. Further along the trail, I noticed a tiny piece of bloodied wool on the ground that I showed to Renias. He gave me a satisfied grin and agreed we were definitely in the right area as the wool must have dropped from the muzzle of the puma after having fed on the sheep, or perhaps it stopped to preen and clean itself and the residual piece of wool had dropped on the ground. We couldn’t be certain but the wool was clear evidence that we were still on the puma’s trail.

An icy wind started to blow, which launched an assault on my nose, ears, and feet, and I had to stop every few metres and do a few star jumps to try to warm up. ‘My nose is throbbing,’ I stammered to Renias in Shangaan and he replied, ‘Because it’s too big, mfo. Mine is small that’s why I’m fine,’ demonstrating his sense of humour even under the toughest of conditions. We had never experienced temperatures that cold and it was beginning to take its toll on our energy levels. I had lost all feeling in my feet and hands, and I rued the fact that I hadn’t purchased proper gear when we were in Punta Arenas, something Cristobal had strongly suggested we do.

I looked up at the three towers of Torres del Paine and immediately had renewed respect for mountaineers and for people who’ve taught themselves to endure the extreme cold. Cristobal must’ve seen me looking at the mountain and told me it was minus 15ºC at its peak! He could see we were taking strain and kindly offered us each a chocolate bar that we devoured and then immediately asked for another. I don’t think he was convinced about tracking the puma. In his mind we were wasting his time following imaginary puma tracks!

We proceeded for another fifteen minutes and Renias then spotted another equally faint track on the ground. I started to feel excited that we were close to finding the puma. Renias always displays a subtle change in his body language, which I don’t think he’s even aware of, when he thinks we are close to finding an animal we’re tracking. He starts to move a little quicker, he speaks faster, he looks up more often and there’s generally positive energy about him. Whether it was my own intuition or I was unconsciously reading Renias’s energy, I felt we were close.

I looked back to where we had found the sheep’s carcass and it was clear the puma was heading back towards its place of refuge in the Torres del Paine National Park. The only question was how far we were behind it. In Africa, we can tell the age of a carcass by the state and colour of the flesh and the flies and associated smell, but because the sheep’s flesh and blood were already frozen, we couldn’t judge how old the kill was. But the puma had eaten less than 20 percent of the carcass, so we could deduce it had been killed very early that morning.

Eventually, we got to a high point above the Las Chinas River and had a good view of the water channel below. Cristobal then told us that the crossing point he knew of was slightly further upstream, as Renias predicted, and that we should go and check it. As we were about to turn and find a route down to the water’s edge, we noticed something moving along the opposite bank of the river. ‘Puma!’ exclaimed Cristobal. Renias and I scrambled for our binoculars but my hands had lost some fine motor control from the cold so it took me a good minute or so to line up my binoculars with the animal. And indeed it was a puma – a young male striding along the opposite riverbank totally unaware of our presence and doing exactly as it would have had we not been there. I never believed that we would even track a puma in Chile let alone be successful in finding and seeing one and Renias turned to me, gave me a high-five, and said, ‘I told you, mfo!’

Read more stories like this one in our latest book called Changing a Leopard’s Spots available in most leading South African bookstores. Alex and Renias also deliver keynote presentations on the power of diversity and wildlife tracking.

 

 

 

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

I have lived and worked with the world’s top wildlife trackers since I was 19 years old. People such as Renias Mhlongo and Karel Benadie.

I have been richly blessed. These are special people with unique skills and attributes.

Their deeply embedded competence places them in a league of their own.

But its more than just skills which sets them apart. They also possess a special blend of attributes.

Human qualities, that in combination with their skills, have kept them at the top of their game.

And it’s been put to the test, in all corners of the world. With leopards and lions in Africa, grizzly bears in North America and pumas in the hostile sierras of Patagonia.

To track successfully, the tracker must discern physical evidence and interpret the animal’s behaviour. Renias and Karel do this exceptionally well. Consistently.

I spent time discussing these traits with Grant Ashfield (Leadership Works) and whether business people can also learn from the trackers.

Here’s what came out…

  1. They know what they are good at.

They play to their strengths. Karel for example is excellent at trailing over rough, broken ground. Renias is brilliant at anticipating an animal’s direction.

These strengths (talents) are a big advantage. It helps them to find the animal efficiently and with little wasted effort. Equally, they know what they are not good at.

  1. They love what they do.

The motivation is intrinsic. Being on the trail is work, but it’s work with meaning. They are happy and relaxed because they are doing what they are best at – what they love.

Their reward is not only finding the animal. The process itself simulates them. It’s where they express themselves. Thus they track when it’s hot and uncomfortable. This perseverance makes them more successful more often.

 

Richard Siwela spent 40 years tracking leopards at Londolozi

 

  1. They balance rational thought with creativity.

Trailing an elusive animal requires them to be both literal and imaginative. Competence with the detail and big-picture thinking is foundational to their mastery.

They zoom in and zoom out of these two modes effortlessly.

Engaging with the minutiae of the trail is vital. They combine physical evidence with the ever-changing information of the landscape. The environment influences the animal’s behaviour. This is creativity in action and is used to anticipate and leapfrog ahead.  

  1. They are constantly learning

There is never a moment of ‘I’ve arrived’. Curiosity is a signature feature of their personality.

Despite their vast experience they have an intense desire to know and understand more. Growing their knowledge and skills is a habit.

Losing the track does not derail them. It represents a fresh opportunity to learn. It’s all part of the process. Amidst the uncertainty, they show calmness, common sense, and competence.

  

Renias Mhlongo’s energy and love for tracking has not subsided in four decades

 

  1. They radiate conviction and confidence

They are positive almost to a fault. Self-limiting beliefs about their ability to find the animal seldom gain traction. They simply believe they will be successful.

This is contagious. It inspires confidence in those (less experienced) tracking with them. Younger trackers learn from this. It strengthens their resilience and desire to keep going.

It also means that one feels safe with them even in unpredictable situations – when the animal shows aggression.  

  1. They love teaching others.

Both Renias and Karel are patient and dedicated teachers. They are devoted to growing the next generation of wildlife trackers.

This is integral to their work. To ensure they are useful and economically active in their communities. This means growing skills, filling them with confidence and exposing them directly to opportunity.

  1. They are humble.

This is possibly their greatest attribute. The one that makes all the others possible. They are modest and unassuming.

Their tracking is not a demonstration designed to impress. They seldom allow their ego to dominate proceedings.

This also means they show compassion and empathy for their subject. They get ‘into the skin of the animal’. Their mindset is one of purpose, intention, and quiet determination.

 

 

Karel ‘Pokkie’ Benadie is the epitome of humble.

 

I am inspired by the lessons I’ve learned from expert trackers. I reflected on the value these provide for organisations in difficult times. Imagine the positive effect the tracker can have on people’s lives.

Are you on track?

Use these 10 questions to reflect on your journey so far:

  1. Do you know what you are good at?
  2. Do you understand what your special talent is and play to this strength?
  3. Do you love what you do?
  4. Does your reward come from doing the work or just achieving the goal?
  5. Can you connect the detail with the big picture…can you zoom in and out?
  6. Are you constantly learning?
  7. Do your words and actions inspire hope and confidence in others?
  8. Do people feel safe around you?
  9. Do you invest significant time and energy teaching the next generation?
  10. Do you have your ego in check?

We love hearing from you. Please comment on the post below. We’ll pick three responses and each person will receive a free copy of my and Renias’s new book, Changing a Leopards Spots

 

 

Alex with his book at Exclusive Books

The book may be ordered on Takealot

An extract from chapter called “Path of a tracker

“Eventually the day came for my second attempt at the trailing component of the evaluation and, by extension, the full Senior Tracker qualification. Louis Liebenberg decided to conduct my evaluation at Londolozi, which did a lot to reduce my nervousness. We drove west from the Londolozi camp and stopped next to a small waterhole known as Guarri Pan, where I noticed evidence of a sin- gle lioness. I could see the tracks were reasonably fresh but I was concerned that committing to a lone lioness would present a particularly difficult trail for me to follow. I had no option, though; I could hardly ask the evaluators to look for a friendlier lion trail! Renias’s brother, Elmon, who had recently qualified as Senior Tracker, accompanied Louis and me in the capacity of observer and local expert and co-evaluator.

‘Good luck, mfo,’ said Elmon as I hauled my tracking stick off the Land Rover and climbed off. I could feel my nerves and I sensed I needed some good fortune so I was pleased to get his encouragement. I first scouted the area for a few minutes to establish the lioness’s direction. I desperately needed her to be going east or north as I knew that landscape intimately and it was also where the sandy soils were more conducive to seeing tracks. A southerly direction would also have been doable but not as good as east or north. West would be the worst outcome as the terrain there changed to the clayey black cotton soil, hard and dark, similar to the habitat where Renias grew up.

The lioness’s tracks crossed the road in front of me directly north of Guarri Pan and I started to trail her. Within five minutes of following her, she had changed her bearing and was heading directly west. This was the worst possible start and my uncle Philip’s often-mentioned words of advice, ‘It’s not about what happens to you but what you do about it,’ which had become something of a mantra for me at this time of my life, came into my head. I had no option but to keep trying. The lioness’s tracks then crossed a road, Elmon’s Kraal, named after an old man who used to live in the area, and I stopped there to have a good look at the condition of the tracks at that point. Another Land Rover had driven over her tracks, partially obscuring them and depositing a lot of dust onto them.

I carried on walking up the road for a few metres and discovered the tracks of another lioness. Two lionesses was a small gift, I thought to myself. The lionesses were walking about 10 metres away from each other, in parallel, and heading in the same direction. I was pretty sure I’d tracked the two lionesses in the same general area on one of my lone training sessions, and that gave me a sense of confidence. I was buoyed by this and I started to trail with good momentum and, for the time being, I felt good.

The trail then entered a woodland of long and drying grass where it was clear a host of other animals had spent the night. I’d just started to develop some sort of flow when the track totally disappeared. I looked up ahead but couldn’t find anything so I decided to play it safe and return to my last confirmed piece of evidence; a track superimposed on a buffalo dropping. I considered whether the lions were following the buffalo but I knew these lionesses and they were not known for hunting buffalo. I progressed painstakingly slowly for a few metres and was able to recognise another faint track, still heading west. Earlier that morning, while drinking my coffee, I’d heard lions calling a long way to the west and I wondered whether these lionesses were on their way to meet up with the rest of their pride.

I pressed on, cognisant that I shouldn’t get myself too caught up in the detail if the evidence wasn’t reliably there and so I made a mini prediction of where the trail was headed. This was my first attempt at anticipating the lionesses’ movements and is a part of the evaluation the evaluators are very critical of in a Senior Tracker test. I walked on a bearing I thought was the right one, and when I came upon a clear game path with open soil, I saw no tracks. My prediction of their direction of movement was wrong and I started to doubt myself. I began to question whether the tracks were even that fresh. Had the vehicle that had driven over the tracks perhaps travelled the previous afternoon? A feeling of dread filled my body and I found myself fundamentally re-examining and querying my original hypothesis and it caused me to hesitate.

What would Renias have done in this scenario? I ran over the events so far and remembered the feeling I’d had upon finding that lioness’s track, that familiar excitement whenever I saw a nice fresh lion track. I must be right, I thought. Speculating on a feeling was perhaps an imperfect approach and I was possibly grasping at straws. Maybe I’d never been very good at accurately ageing tracks, I said to myself. So many thoughts were running through my head, which was causing confusion and distracting me from the task at hand.

In an attempt to re-centre myself, I reminded myself that the last confirmed lion track I had seen had been heading up the slope towards the crest so I tentatively proceeded that way. I started thinking about how much fun I’d had practising my tracking skills over the last few months, and how this evaluation embodied the complete opposite. The test’s anxiety construct was in full gallop and it was causing me to question my every decision. If I was going to succeed I had to find a way to calm myself and focus. Thoughts such as ‘I need to pass this’ and ‘What will I say to people if I fail?’ were racing through my mind and were thwarting my ability to perform.

When I had been practising alone in the bush, I never had any of those thoughts and had never doubted myself, and consequently I was able to express myself freely in my ability to follow the tracks. I found some calmness within myself by consciously substituting all the limiting self-judgements I was making with one clear thought, ‘I will find.’ It was an old mantra of Renias’s that brought feelings of familiarity and freedom, feelings that had been eluding me up to this point.

If Renias had been there, he would’ve backed his ability to recognise a track up ahead in the knowledge that he’d made the correct decision and was headed in the right direction. I consciously made the decision to do the same. I surmised that there was nothing to suggest that the lions would suddenly change their direction.”

Exclusive Books is open and selling our book. Alternatively, you can order on TAKEALOT here.