Tracking Dangerous Animals

An introduction to dangerous animals

In order to study spoor, one must inevitably go to places where one will most likely encounter wild and often dangerous animals. It is therefore necessary to prepare oneself for such an encounter, so that one can avoid possible confrontations or, in the case of an accidental confrontation, know how to deal with it.

Professional conservationists, rangers, veterinarians and researchers must, given the nature of their work, expose themselves to an element of danger. Sometimes it may be necessary for them to take calculated risks, otherwise they will never get their work done.

People who take unnecessary risks, however, are not ‘brave’ – they are simply stupid. There is no place for bravado in the wilds.

Recreational walks in the wilderness are becoming increasingly popular. In this way people gain first-hand experience of nature and develop positive attitudes towards conservation. Those going on such walks should at least know about the possible dangers involved, so that they will know what to do and not give way to irrational fears.

The inexperienced naturalist should at all times be accompanied by an experienced ranger or tracker.

The shooting of dangerous animals should be left to experienced rangers who know what they are doing. Unless one is an excellent marksman and knows exactly when and where to shoot an animal, it may be better not to shoot at all, since there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal. Even if unarmed or armed with only a throwing stick/club and a knife, the appropriate reaction may save your life. Furthermore, it is not always possible to carry a firearm. Visitors to Botswana, for example, are not allowed to carry firearms.

One’s first priority should always be to avoid confrontations. The advice given in this section should be followed only as a last resort in the event of an accidental confrontation.

Never test a dangerous animal, since there are always exceptions to the rule. While animals may generally conform to certain characteristic behaviours, it must be remembered that individual animals have their own ‘personalities’, and that some individuals may deviate from the norm.

Although the author has endeavoured to ensure that the information given is as reliable as possible, neither he nor the publisher assumes responsibility for any action taken as a result of information contained here.

The inexperienced naturalist who intends spending a lot of time in the wilds may go through several learning stages.

Initially you may experience irrational fears of unknown dangers because of your lack of knowledge. Such a state of mind can result in panic, which may have fatal consequences. You should avoid this at all cost by gaining as much knowledge as possible.

Over a period of time, when nothing serious happens, you may grow careless. Such an attitude is dangerous because if you do encounter a dangerous animal, you may be caught off guard at a time when you should be in full control of yourself.

As you begin to encounter dangerous animals, while as yet no serious incidents have occurred, familiarity breeds contempt. And if you are at an adventurous youthful age, you may even be inclined to become slightly reckless. However, when you have reached the stage when you disregard natural fear, you are in even greater danger than ever before.

At one point I had the foolish habit of picking up scorpions by their stings to put them down on smooth sand so that I could study their spoor. I thought that as long as I held a scorpion by its sting, it couldn’t sting me! It seemed to work very well, until the day I was just a little too careless and was stung. Luckily it was a Scorpionid and not a Buthid.

You may be lucky enough to survive a few ‘close shaves’, but sooner or later recklessness may prove to be fatal. And if you are unlucky it may happen sooner rather than later.

After a few ‘close shaves’ you will probably become increasingly cautious as you begin to appreciate real dangers for what they really are. As you gain experience, knowledge diminishes irrational fear, but you will also develop a growing respect for dangerous animals, based on rational fear of real danger.

If you are well informed about the possible dangers, the appropriate cautious attitude may be adopted from the very start, and the dangerous initial learning stages can be avoided.

To minimise the chances of being killed by a dangerous animal you need to overcome an irrational fear of the unknown, while avoiding irrational fearlessness of what you think you ‘know’. You should at all times maintain a rational fear of known danger.

This requires an optimum combination of caution and curiosity. A healthy curiosity leads to an increase in knowledge, which diminishes irrational fear, but should always be tempered by adequate caution.

Natural fear is important, as long as it is kept under control. It keeps you alert, and when confronted by a dangerous animal, it intensifies the senses, makes you think faster, you seem to lose your emotional feelings, you don’t feel pain and the adrenalin gives you additional strength.

You need to prepare yourself psychologically for a possible confrontation. No matter how small the chances are, always be prepared for the worst, because when it does happen, you won’t have time to think about it.

When you are suddenly confronted by a dangerous animal at short range and the intense ice-cold sensation of fear shoots through your whole body, it is very difficult to react in a rational way. Furthermore, every muscle in your body will he tensed up, including your vocal chords, so your voice will come out in a high-pitched squeak. In order to sound aggressive when shouting at a charging animal, you have to force your voice tonality down. A high-pitched voice that sounds like a panic-stricken scream may well encourage a wild animal to attack you.

The intense fear makes the animal appear much bigger than it is, and time seems to stand still. Yet you must react instantly and intuitively, and your intuition must override your instinctive urge to flee.

To prepare yourself psychologically you should visualise an animal attacking you and in your imagination act out the appropriate response to that particular animal. This mental exercise should be repeated until it becomes second nature. It must become part of your intuitive way of thinking so that when the worst actually happens you will be mentally and psychologically prepared to react instantly, without having to think about it.