National Geographic Channel’s new series “The Savage Line” examines the hazardous jobs of individuals who navigate nature’s most unpredictable landscapes and protect humans whose interests lie within grasp of dangerous elements of the natural world. Their trade takes them deep into the wild to protect livelihoods that depend on keeping dangerous animals out – archeologists at a snake-infested dig site, wild life photographers attempting to get close to wild bison. In order to make these things happen, these men must become non-lethal hunters and observers, tracking animals in different ways to keep their subjects safe.
Although techniques and methods change depending on species, weather, and time of day, certain skills are vital. It’s key to understand what you’re tracking, which is more difficult than it sounds, particularly in complex ecosystems. Size, shape, and spacing between tracks can help do this. For example, one can tell a dog from a bobcat by ensuring that the print has nail marks and toes, signature parts of the dog trail mark largely absent from the bobcat trail. The gait, or how the animal walks, allows a professional tracker to predict where an animal is headed. This is extremely important, as not each track will be visible, and it’s sometimes necessary to imagine where the animal may have gone, and it will be easier to pick up the trail.
Of course, a professional tracker also looks for scats. A good tracker can tell what animal they’re tracking not only by size and shape, but by visual content: scats can contain fur, indicating that you’re dealing with a predator. Some animals scrape around the area to cover their scat with dirt, a sign that you may be dealing with a bobcat.
Tracking animals isn’t just crouching in the dirt looking for foot prints. Ultimately, a good tracker is somewhat of an ecologist (if not an ecologist, outright). They’ll be familiar not only with the minute differences in the behaviors and physical traits of animal species – does the animal have toes or hooves? Does the animal walk, gallop or hop? Is the animal an herbivore or omnivore? But they’ll also know the surrounding environment
But just understanding wildlife and ecosystems isn’t always enough. There are physical limitations to tracking, which allow for human error. Many of these involve disturbing the ecosystem. When in wildlife areas that could alert the animal to your presence or disturb the environment significantly, patience and quiet is key. Heel-toe movements – essentially rolling your feet from the heel smoothly through the toe – soften your step significantly, and can help if getting close to an animal. A skilled tracker also never walks on the spoor! When the trail inevitably goes dry, trackers must retrace or fan out in different directions, something made much harder when the only tracks they can find are their own.
Some novices may strain their eyes searching for prints, but professionals know that tracking is easiest in the morning or midday, when the track shadows are elongated. When the sun is shining directly overhead, it can be much more difficult to determine the specifics of an indentation. Prints also need to be determined for age, as old prints that are visible in some places may have eroded significantly in others.
Pick up a few more tracking tips tonight on the series premiere of “The Savage Line” tonight at 10P. Can’t wait? Watch this preview. In order to get a close up shot of the herd, a cameraman uses a buffalo hide to travel undetected:
Tonight at 10P, on The Savage Line: Buffalo Stampede, before an archeological team arrives, Cory Valdes must trek deep into the Belize jungle to clear a cave site of two types of extremely venomous snakes, but heavy rain makes for an even riskier situation. Meanwhile, near the badlands of South Dakota, Jason Lesmeister and a wildlife photographer use a buffalo hide to capture unique, close-range photos of bison, but what happens next is certainly not on the agenda.