New Book Review: A Field Guide to the Tracks & Signs of Southern, Central & East African Wildlife
Have you ever been in the field with a guide and wondered how they can glance at a set of tracks and pronounce what species left them and how long ago? Or have you ever been in the field with a guide who has made such prouncements and felt sure he – or she – was wrong? Then look no further because this book – yet again – from the industrious Chris & Mathilde Stuart will help.
The 500 page paperback has a wealth of information on signs of mammals and other wildlife (birds, reptiles and insects) from across the region. It is not all that straightforward to know how best to organise a book like this but the Stuarts have done a great job organising this into a format that should work very well when you are out in the bush.
Half of the book is organised by track type, with clusters of species listed according to whether they have paws, hooves, three toes and so on. Each species – and there are many of them – comes with a brief discussion on distribution and habitat, plus diagrams and photographs of the tracks.
The rest of the book has sections on poop (once again imaginitively organised by shape and size, and not – thankfully – by smell), nests, burrows and other types of evidence of an animal’s presence.
This is a fun read and – even if you decide you don’t have space to take it with you – it would be worth studying I think, especially entries for any target species you might have. I have lost count of how many times I have wandered around a patch of habitat at night – not seeing the animal I was looking for – and becoming increasingly doubtful that the burrows I had seen in the daylight belonged to my quarry as I had earlier thought. Studying this book would provide some reassurance.
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I know I’m responding VERY late to this, but as a professional guide and a tracker, I’d like to chime in here, if no one minds.
This is a great book for photos and basic descriptions of signs of all sorts of creatures from mammals to birds to invertebrates, and is organized in a practical layout for finding the right group of creatures based on the type of sign you might find in the wild. I find this book exceedingly useful for non-spoor signs, scrapes, dung/scat/droppings, burrows, nests, mounds, shelters, & bones for a wide range of species.
I would, however, warn anyone using this book to beware of the drawings of footprints (spoor), which are often bizarrely shaped, and lack any useful detail or descriptions of key identifying features. Dimensions indicated are fine, and often basically accurate.
For the most accurate drawings of African animal spoor, I would not recommend anything other than a publication with Louis Liebenberg’s artwork.
For Mammals, specifically, probably the best book to buy is “Mammals of Southern Africa and their Tracks & Signs” by Lee Gutteridge and Louis Liebenberg. The track keys at the beginning of the book are super useful for narrowing down your choices and helping you eventually get to the right species or genus ID. The drawings and descriptions are about as accurate as they come (Louis Liebenberg is the founder of Cybertracker and developed the most widely used tracking teaching & assessment tools in the world. Lee Gutteridge is a Senior tracker & tracking training instructor & assessor).