Wildlife: How to Track a Lion

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For many visitors to the bush, the art of tracking and following an animal is both mystical and fascinating to experience.  One of the oldest known art forms, tracking is as ancient as man itself yet today it is a diminishing aspect of indigenous culture which is being kept alive by the Tracker Academy.  In this series of posts, sponsored by the Tracker Academy, we aim to help you understand how to identify and follow tracks when you are on your next safari.

Here are a couple of important things to look for and remember when you are next tracking a lion…

  • A Lion has four distinct toes – ordinarily no claws show in the track unless the animal walks in deep mud, running or when scraping the ground when scent marking with the hind feet. Claws aid in grip when the lion accelerates.
  • There is one large main pad with three clear lobes at the back, posterior edge which is common to all the cats.
  • The two rounded toes (one being the due claw) that are situated higher up the leg but do not show in the track.
  • Tracks are usually 90-145mm in length, depending on the size and sex of the animal
  • Male’s tracks are slightly longer (up to 145mm for a front foot at Londolozi) and are broader than that of the female. The female’s average track length for a front foot measure 130mm at Londolozi.  Take a look at this track below
Male Lion Track 

Male Lion Track

  • The front track is larger when compared with the hind track, which is often narrower than the front. The front foot of most animals is larger due to the weight of it head and chest that the front foot must bear. The lion uses its forefeet to grab hold of its prey, and in fighting.
  • The toes of the front foot track are also slightly more splayed. The front track can be somewhat obscured due to the ergonomic movement of the foot striking the ground, particularly in males. Males often ‘flick’ their front feet, which shows up in the track, as it does not land cleanly on the ground, making it obscure. A lion swagger!
  • In a slow (normal) stride, the hind foot will strike the ground approximately 8cm in front of the front foot. In very slow movement, like when the lion is stalking, the back foot will land on top of the front (register).
  • Lions move in prides mostly and often take the easiest route, for example, on well-worn game paths, through riverbeds or short grass clearings. They make no particular effort to hide themselves, unlike leopards, which will avoid any type of detection, even by baboons and monkeys.

I’m very interested to answer any questions you may have on tracking lions, as well as to hear your own stories and experiences whilst out tracking in the bush.  Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below…

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