Did you know?
A skilled tracker can read the tracks on earth like others read a newspaper.
In the predawn light, a group of men armed with walking sticks stands circled and attentive. These students of the Tracker Academy all peer at the ground with great concentration.
In the middle of the group is Master Tracker Karel Benadie, wearing a cloth hat and an air of authority. Here, he explains, pointing with his walking stick, is the track of a cheetah, similar to a leopard's, yet with faint claw marks. He shows how its tracks reveal it was stalking a kudu. A whole drama unfolds, written in the earth.
This is the Tracker Academy in action. The academy offers a year-long course to carefully chosen students. Six months of that are on the hardest surface of all to follow a spoor, the firm-packed clay of the Karoo, at Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet. After this, tracking wildlife anywhere else will be easy.
The next six months for these young trackers will be spent at Londolozi, next to Kruger National Park, deepening their knowledge of environmental issues.
The academy is a partnership between the South African College for Tourism, Samara and senior tracker, Alex van den Heever. Apart from tracking, the students are also trained in literacy, presentation skills, conservation ethics and personal leadership.
Few jobs demand such total immersion in the natural environment, and such deep knowledge of animal behaviour and local ecology.
Some say tracking was the very first human science, the relating of symbols (tracks) and relating them to another reality (the animals). It may have primed our minds for reading and science.
The Tracker Academy is helping to revive an ancient skill, one with growing importance for conservation, game management and ecotourism.
If you're staying at Samara, you may make a special arrangement to spend a few hours with the academy, learning the signs of the wild.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
The Tracking Academy
Division of the Southern African College for Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 49 892 2244
Best time to visit
The Tracker Academy takes two batches of students a year, and is only closed during school holidays (June and December).