‘The enormous knowledge and skills required to track animals in the wild is one of our most indigenous art forms,’ says Deborah Calmeyer, CEO, and founder of ROAR AFRICA. ‘Wildlife tracking is an ancient skill set that evolved out of necessity, and has been critical to our survival as humans.’ As such it stands to reason that a skilled, knowledgeable tracker is as critical to a good safari experience, as he or she is in communicating the importance of conservation.
This concept was brought home to Deborah on a recent trip to the Kruger National Park when a wildlife tracker unobtrusively disembarked from the vehicle and strode off confidently into an area alive with many animals including The Big Five. ‘We were all in total awe at his sense of calm and confidence in the bush,’ says Deborah, who was all the more impressed when he radioed to report that he had located the 19-strong pride of lion they were longing to see. ‘His ability in tracking the lion spoor, predicting the behavior of the pride and then successfully leading us to them was thrilling for those of us who have long lost confidence in our senses.’
In days of old, the success of good tracking was so important to human survival that it was viewed as a mystical skill much like water divining. But in recent years, the decrease in wilderness areas as a result of rapid urbanization put these skills in danger. That is, until Tracker Academy- the first school of its kind, was opened in 2010.
The Tracker Academy was the realization of a long-held dream for ranger Alex van den Heever, who first identified the need for such a school when he started working as a game ranger in 1995. ‘My greatest gift was being assigned Renias Mhlongo as my tracking partner,’ says Alex. ‘Renias’ knowledge – spanning some 32 years – was an incredible educational discovery for me,’ recalls Alex. ‘I realized that there was no formal educational qualification that imparted tracking skills to a new generation and no organization which professionally trained and deployed trackers in conservation jobs for the benefit of the preservation of our wildlife and wilderness spaces.
With Alex’s passion and the foresight of philanthropists, the Tracker Academy began to train unemployed community members with traditional tracking skills, in a course that is fully sponsored. The qualifying students find employment in the eco-tourism, anti-poaching, and animal monitoring industries – areas that are all critical to the preservation of Africa’s wildlife. The year-long course has students assigned work for a six month period at Samara and Londolozi Game Reserves. Students from the Kalahari region spend ten months at the Tswalu training base. It is an initiative that is producing well-trained and knowledgeable trackers who can contribute on a global level in the fields of environmental restoration, animal monitoring and habituation, specialized safaris, education and wildlife protection. Tracker Academy has recently developed an advanced tracker training program called Lead Tracker, which offers the opportunity to accredit and certify Trackers at a higher degree of tracking.
‘In this day and age there are few things more primordial and rewarding, if not a little daunting, than being let loose in a wild place, armed with just your senses and a dollop of intuition to guide you,’ says Deborah. ‘With an initiative like the Tracker Academy, we can rest assured that the next generation of trackers are learning from the traditions of those that have gone before, and that is worthy of applause.’
For more information on the Tracker Academy or if you would like us to include a tracking session or visit to the Tracker Academy in your safari itinerary, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org