The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
In July 2013 the SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy conducted its inaugural Lead Tracker course. Recognised by the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA), the Lead Tracker qualification is the most advanced level of tracking offered by the Tracker Academy.
Singita game reserve generously provided accommodation for eight tracker students, a Land Rover, diesel and some 14 000 hectares of prime wildlife estate for the training and assessment purposes.
Experienced tracker, George Nkuna, was enlisted to carry out the daily training in preparation for the final Lead Tracker assessment. Three weeks in total, seven days per week, the course was broken into two segments – two weeks of training and one week of final assessment.
Four of the eight students were top performing Tracker Academy graduates from their respective courses, dating back to 2010. The other four students were all highly experienced trackers in their own right, with two of them having over 20 years of animal tracking experience. The Lead Tracker assessment comprises two components; ‘track and sign identification’ and ‘following animal trails’. In each component, students are required to display the highest measurable level of tracking skill in a 100% practically based assessment.
The first component included fifty ‘track and sign’ questions. Every question was rated as difficult, as each animal track asked was atypical, unclear or obscure. Questions on insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, antelope and certain large animals’ tracks and signs were included. It is important to note that all three assessors are to agree on each question and answer, and be able to explain it beyond reasonable doubt, should the candidate challenge the answer.
To pass the assessment, the candidate must either score 100% or get only one question wrong. If he/she gets a maximum of two questions wrong, the assessors are permitted to ask a further five questions of which all must be correctly answered in order to pass the assessment. Any candidate who answers three or more questions incorrectly will be found not-yet-competent. The track and sign assessment requires the most refined analytical skills. It requires a detailed knowledge of local wildlife as well as the ability to interpret animal behaviour from signs on the ground.
The second component involves the ‘following of animal trails’ which requires the candidate to follow and locate either a lion or a leopard. On foot, the candidate must find fresh tracks of the cat, and then follow its trail, whilst simultaneously being aware of other alarm calls, until he/she finally locates the animal.
A minimum of two hours of following is required to constitute a valid assessment. Here the candidate’s ability to predict the animal’s movements and to recognise its tracks on the ground are critical aspects of the assessment. The candidate must conduct himself in a safe manner without causing disturbance to the animal trailed.The ‘following’ component examines the candidate’s mental focus as well as his/her physical stamina over a sustained period in often-difficult conditions. The ability to anticipate an animal’s movements in areas where tracks are difficult to see requires thousands of hours of practice and experience.
If a candidate is found competent in both components described above, he/she will receive the full Lead Tracker qualification. Due to exceptionally high level of skill required, very few trackers pass the Lead Tracker assessment on their first attempt. It is intended to be a rigorous test of knowledge and skill, which one takes pride in achieving.Should a candidate only pass one of the components, he/she is recognised as such and therefore only needs to be assessed on the outstanding skill area.
The following are the results from the Lead Tracker course:
Lead Tracker – full qualification:
Following Assessment – passed:
Level 4 Assessment – passed (achieved results above the level 4 threshold on both components):
Well done to Richard Khoza and Richard Mthabine!
It must be remembered that Richard Mthabine was the only Tracker Academy student to score 100% in his final year assessment, a record that still stands. He certainly continued the same form into the Lead Tracker course. With only a standard 5 education at a rural school, Richard has excellent analytical skills that seem to come naturally. For the Tracker Academy to lift tracking skills to the next level, we need to find ways to train analytical skills to our students.
The course was intended to be a pilot intervention designed to create a framework for future Lead Tracker courses. FGASA was very supportive of the initiative, and awarded the Lead Tracker certificates with full recognition. In fact, FGASA suggested that we use the name, Lead Tracker, as it aligns the qualification with their other high-level guiding certificates. The next step will be for the SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy to propose the Lead Tracker programme for accreditation by the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality & Sport Education and Training Authority of South Africa (CATHSSETA), which would be the first officially accredited advanced tracking certificate (programme) in South Africa.I would like to thank the trainer, assessors and external assessor for their invaluable contribution to the training course and assessment. George Nkuna, Ian Thomas, Karel Benadie and Renias Mhlongo formed the core of the initiative. Thank you.
Story by Alex van den Heever
SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy Manager
Visit the Tracker Academy website for more