Bushmen trails: walk with world’s best trackers
Kruger National Park is set to tap the skills of Namibia’s peerless Ju/’hoansi Bushmen trackers to deepen visitors’ wildlife experiences
History will be made in July when Bushmen again walk the savannah of the Lowveld, hundreds of years after their presence there was eclipsed by incoming forces.
Not just any Bushmen, but members of the Ju/’hoansi from the remote Nyae Nyae Conservancy of Namibia, the last group in Southern Africa still allowed to hunt in the traditional way. And not just any Ju/’hoansi, but the country’s top two recognised master trackers, the renowned /Ui-G/aqo and /Ui-Kxunta.
The Ju/’hoansi are poor, to the point of destitution, but they get by partially through their peerless command of the most ancient art of human survival: animal tracking. They are also the last of the endurance hunters, capable of running down antelope until the animals drop from exhaustion.
Kruger National Park is about to tap the skills of the subcontinent’s west to meet the huge demand in the east for deeper wildlife experiences. Of the millions of tourists who visit the park annually, most view animals from the security of vehicles. But a dedicated and growing group of Kruger Park aficionados revel in the opportunity to go out on guided walks in prime areas.
The wilderness walks turn on an intimate reading of the bush, and the Kruger guides are expert at doing that. Their prowess will be bolstered by exponents with 100,000 years of continuous bush craft to draw on.
The first walking trails featuring Bushman trackers in the Greater Kruger National Park will be run mid-year over five days in the northern Makuleke Contract Park, followed by three days in the Nyalaland wilderness area, which is rich in San rock art.
The trails will allow participants to engage with all aspects of the environment, from rocks and plants to animals, with a special focus on tracks and tracking. Campfire evenings will be opportunities to hear Bushmen stories, of which there are a large number.
The master tracker designation certified by CyberTracking Conservation is the highest level of recognition in the art of tracking.
Discovery Trail’s Clive Thompson, an accredited trail guide and tracker, says there is a huge difference between these trackers and the rest.
"While walking through the Kalahari savanna we came across two parallel sets of tracks in soft, collapsing sand with no discernible distinguishing features to me," Thompson says.
"There were no pad outlines, no nail marks. /Ui-Kxunta and /Ui-G/aqo said at once the tracks belonged to a black-backed jackal and a bat-eared fox. I asked them how they knew, expecting them to say something like, ‘the gait measurements are so many centimetres apart’ or ‘the depth of each set of tracks is different’.
"Instead, they responded with the perfect indigenous answer: ‘Because they are!’
"We followed the traces until we came across a harder substrate where the tracks were clear."
The two trails in Kruger Park will be conducted by Nyalaland’s principal guide, Chris Mthathi, supported by lead trail guides Vanessa Strydom and Thompson. They will be joined by archaeologist and San rock art expert Annie Radford as well as a documentary film maker.
The pioneering trails will be a proof-of-concept exercise. If they work and are followed up, the Kruger National Park experience will be enriched and the fragile cause of the Ju/’hoansi trackers and their needy communities will receive a powerful boost.
Each trail can take a maximum of four path-breaking guests.
Discovery Trails and the Nanofasa Conservation Foundation are facilitating the venture under the auspices of ReturnAfrica and South African National Parks.
• To join in supporting the trails, contact Discovery Trails.