It may surprise you to be told, ancient skills such as tracking are still a vital part of the wildlife manager’s job.
Can you hazard a guess at which animal left this near perfect set of prints?
The scene was a smooth-floored grain shed covered in a fine layer of dust, a gift to the keen tracker.
Mice, rats and a rabbit had all entered the shed recently. These are rat tracks.
The rat has run left to right.
Leftmost of the prints, the left forefoot, has touched down first.
As the right forefoot has reached forward, the two hindfeet have then come forward, as do a racing dog’s, to touch down under it’s nose, leaving the two large outer prints with the right forefoot print between them.
Many similar sized mammals leave very similar pawprints and deciding which animal left the prints requires great attention to detail.
Here the only other contender was stoat.Fortunately this fine stoory layer has not only taken the toe prints but also the pad (palm) prints.
Though rat and stoat toe prints can be similar, their pad prints are markedly different.
Another help is that the stoat family (mustelids) have slightly bigger forefeet than hindfeet, whereas rodents are the opposite.
Outdoors, of course, it can be a different matter with far more indistinct tracks, perhaps weathered by recent rain or wind.
Often no clear or entire prints show at all, just a series of indistinct impressions.
Now the tracker relies upon the many times he has stood quietly watching animals go about their lives, for he must see in his mind’s eye the animal as it left the prints.
Was it walking, running, hunting, playing?
What objects or scents has it shown interest in?
Where has it been and where is it going?
What was the weather at the time? Was the animal carrying anything?
These and many more questions and clues must be investigated.
Thankfully, like anything else, the more you practise the more you learn. Finally it all gels and reading tracks becomes as natural as reading a book. Then you are a tracker!
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