“He can track a butterfly…”
Reading Terry Weiland’s back page gave me the nudge I needed – I am actually ashamed that it’s taken me all this time to get down to writing this.
Thirty-five years ago, a family friend in Bulawayo, now a retired hunter and co-owner of Southern Comfort Lodge, mentioned that his tracker Hlayisi – (pronounced Shlice, except clients called him Slice), was so talented that he could track a butterfly! Having collected butterflies as a youngster, I will never forget that comment.
Fast forward to 2012 when I was at an African Professional Hunters (APHA) dinner in Reno, where the Dangerous Game Award was given to John Sharp. When John walked up to the stage, he interrupted the applause to say that the trophy was not for him, but for his faithful and loyal tracker who he would like to recognize and honor, and he asked him join him on stage. As Isaac Ncube walked up, completely bewildered, a thundering ovation erupted. There couldn’t have been a dry eye in the house. John had flown him in from Zimbabwe, and what a gesture of recognition. What an eye-opener for Isaac. As John said, hunters take the glory and yet when the chips are down, where would they be without the tracker?
Fast forward again to just last month, and even I can answer that question! Hacking like a blind woodsman, I was an observer on a buffalo safari with Bobby Hansen (and I hope he gets to write up the full safari, because that was something to behold) but this particular segment was tracking a wounded buffalo. George, Bobby’s tracker for 20-plus years, was following what I could only describe as ridiculous hints of blood spoor. I will show you the pic below and then overleaf will circle the blood. It was like one of those frustrating Facebook images that ask if you can identify some specific object in a mass of confusion. But far worse than a Facebook puzzle, here was I, supposed to see this blood spot, while at the same time looking out for danger, hot and tired, and with a few thorns in my legs!
The next day they went back to resume the search. I decided not to go as I felt it was a personal experience for the hunter on his own with his PH. Over five hours later, we got the call to the camp. On top of some hill, in thick undergrowth, rocks everywhere, this monster had given his final charge. And Bob, a PH of several decades, couldn’t explain how George, his tracker, found the buffalo – which is the common theme when PHs try to explain their trackers’ abilities. Meanwhile, the client was grumpy because Bob had to shoot to finish the hunt as the 1000-pound steam train charged and fell just 10 yards from them. (The client could not understand that without Bobby’s intervention, he would probably have been run over – but that is the subject of another day!)
In times like this, trackers are to hunters what seeing-eye dogs are to the visually impaired. Maybe not exactly – but you get the idea. I digress again, but that expression – “seeing-eye dog” – is probably one of the greatest “Americanisms” I have ever heard. The rest of the world simply calls them “guide dogs”.
Anyway, it is never too late (though it has taken me decades), so here is a challenge for both hunters reading this, and for industry professionals who rely on these trackers to make world-class safaris: Let’s hear the stories and let’s honor these wizards of the wild.
If you have an experience or story about a tracker, jot it down as you recall it, and send it to me. Include a picture as well if you have one. This is something I really feel passionate about, and we will publish the anecdotes to recognize these bush craftsmen – our trackers.