Be A Number One Tracker…of Number Twos

Written by Thomson Safaris
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There are many signs guides use in the field to help them find animals; the nearest source of water, the flick of a tail from a tree-branch, or even the intensity of the heat of the day (and where it might drive animals to take cover).

But one of the most unignorable guideposts when looking for game is something animals leave behind on their travels: their scat.

Animal droppings tell an incredibly rich story; scat can tell an expert guide what animals have been through, how recently, even whether they’re eating enough lately.

The makeup of scat, as well as the consistency, is directly related to an animal’s diet and digestive process. Ruminants with multi-chambered stomachs leave behind hard, pellet-like scat. A carnivore, on the other hand, might have pieces of bone in its droppings.

The shape also tells you a lot; cat droppings, for example, tend to be teardrop shaped, pointed at one or both ends. Whether the animal has covered the scat gives you another clue (cats, for example, often do).

If you’re brave enough to touch it, you can learn just how long ago the animal passed by; warm scat means it was very recently, cold but soft scat means somewhat recently, and dry or crumbly scat means the animal may have passed by weeks or even months ago.

But the most important step is knowing what you’re on the lookout for (after all, some animals you may not WANT to chase after). Can you identify the following droppings?

elephant scat

Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Ted Loebenberg

What can you see? It’s obviously a grazer (and it looks like it spends a lot of time grazing). It’s relatively contained, which rules out hippos (who spray their scat with their tails as a way of marking territory).

One thing you may not be able to see it in this picture: it’s very, very large…

Answer: Elephant

Elephant dung is recognizable because of the high plant-matter content…but mostly because there’s never just a LITTLE of it in any one place.

 

What about this next one?

antelope scat

Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Ted Loebenberg

Hard, pellet-like, and compact. It can only be…

Answer: Antelope

If you look at the scale of this picture, with individual blades of grass much longer, even, than the pellets, you can infer that this came from a small antelope, possibly a dik-dik or klipspringer.

 

This next one might stump you:

hyena scat


Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Ted Loebenberg

Let’s be honest, there’s only one thing you’re looking at here: it’s white?

Answer: Hyena

Hyenas have incredibly strong jaws and tough stomachs, which means they can eat an entire kill…including the bones. The calcium in the bones is what gives their scat its characteristic white color!

 

What can you see here:

cheetah scatPhoto: cheetahupdates.blogspot.com

It’s compact, but not in pellets. There’s no visible plant matter, but there’s no visible traces of bones, either. Look at the very end; do you notice the pointed shape?

If you saw the photo credit, from cheetahupdates.blogspot.com, you might be able to guess…

Answer: Cheetah

Many cats—even big cats—bury their droppings, but cheetah will often leave them out in the open on top of lookout points, such as a well-situated termite mound, as a way of saying “this seat’s taken.”

Considering the nature of the marker, we’re happy to let the cheetahs have it…