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The new app for identifying animal tracks

Our magazine editor tests the new iTrack Southern Africa app, and finds it’s not only good at identifying wildlife. 

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An African wild cat. ©Bernard Dupont

An African wild cat wants to eat me. This was my conviction after being woken, numerous times, by a fierce predator clawing at my blanket, it’s ragged breath on my face. I’d sit up with a start and the beast would vanish leaving me wondering if it was a nightmare. I have a domestic cat called Sebastian, but I couldn’t imagine that lazy moggy deviating from his routine of naps and lazy strolls to the food bowl.

Sebastian

Sebastian (see the similarity?). ©Anton Crone

In the mornings I’d see tracks in my garden leading to the living room window; on rainy nights I would follow muddy paw prints to my bedroom. I thought I might be in danger, but, with the new iTrack Southern Africa app, I was able to deduce that it was indeed Sebastian leaving those prints, not a man-eating wild cat. I guess Sebastian takes on a more feral persona at night – the feline version of Mr. Hyde.

It might seem strange to test an app designed for identifying wildlife tracks at home, but I was eager to try it out as soon as I got it. Luckily I had the chance to get out into the wild soon after.

Embarking on some magical walking trials in the Pafuri area of northern Kruger National Park, iTrack truly came into its own. The thrill of walking in the wild is enhanced by the tracks and signs that you find along the way. You might not see predators that often, but with iTracks guide to paw prints, dung and other signs, you have a much better sense of which creatures are sharing your trail and how recently they were there. Effectively it heightens your awareness of the environment around you and reminds you just how exposed you are to wild animals when walking; it can even act as a bit of a cheat sheet to impress fellow walkers and guides:

Good guides, like our Return Africa guide Elizabeth, engage guests by asking them to identify tracks. With iTrack on your phone, you can act as if you are just scrolling through photos while the other guests ponder the track, and you can impress everyone by identifying it first.

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Guide Elizabeth helps a guest identify a track in Pafuri. ©Romy Chevallier

Like my domestic cat situation, the app is especially handy when identifying tracks such as genets which are also very similar to wildcats, or obscure tracks like porcupine and aardvark which can, to the inexperienced eye, appear like they were left by aliens from another planet.

But you’ll never beat a good guide. I heard Elizabeth striding towards my tent for a wake up call one dark, early morning. She called out “Good morning,” then said: “Oh! You had a leopard visitor last night,” and without breaking her stride, went to wake the other guests. After much searching with a bright torch I finally found the very faint leopard track she had managed to identify in the gloom with her expert eye. It was heading straight for my tent. It seems I’m easy pickings for wild cats at night.

This is a very handy tool for the wildlife enthusiast who doesn’t like lugging around a book – it is especially good for hikes and walking safaris.

Among many other useful features, the app displays:

– Detailed illustrations and measurement of tracks (including domestic cat, dog, cow and sheep).

– Photographs and descriptions of tracks in different soil types and conditions.

– Photographs and descriptions of the animal’s walking gait.

– Close up photographs of the animal’s paws or hooves.

– Notes on the character of the animals.

– A handy search tool which allows you to describe the track and find a match.

– And the most vital thing for me: Identification of similar tracks to avoid mistaking one animal for another. Thank you iTrack Southern Africa, I can now sleep easy at night.

You can purchase and download iTrack Southern African on the iTunes app store

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Publishing editor of Africa Geographic Magazine.

  • Jane

    Such a fun article! And such a cool app! Thanks

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