Following Trails

When you know how to read rhino tracks, as the Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project’s monitoring officers do, they reveal much more than simply that a rhino was present in the area.

A track can reveal how large the rhino was, how fast it was moving and how recently it passed by. The width of the track and the length of its stride indicate the size of the individual. But clever trackers know not to leap to conclusions – a big old female is easily mistaken for a bull, or a young male for an adult female.

By carefully studying the print, the habitat and the weather, our officers can determine how recently the rhino passed by.

WIND & RAIN A skilled tracker is always aware of when it rains and when the wind blows, its speed and direction, because this knowledge helps them to ‘read’ any rhino’s footprints they find.

A brisk wind will smooth the crisp edges of a fresh rhino track and recent downpours will leave raindrops in the sand inside the footprint, thus enabling our officers to determine how fresh it is.

OTHER WILDLIFE Rhino monitoring officers also keep an eye out for oxpeckers as these birds are often found in company with large herbivores. Even insects can help. Our officers know which invertebrates are active in the bush, night and day, and what signs they leave, as these can help to age a footprint. The tiny tracks of matebele ants on a rhino footprint indicate the spoor was laid before these diurnal ants became active in the morning.

VEGETATION Ground vegetation flattened by passing rhinos soon becomes erect again. Our monitoring officers know how long it takes each species to reach full height, enabling them to accurately estimate the time of the rhino’s passing. If the vegetation still has sand in its leaves, the rhino was here quite recently.