Pug Marks-Viv`s Travel Bug 1300 815 512

Viv`s Travel Bug 1300 815 512

Pug Marks

PUG MARKS IN INDIA....SPOOR IN AFRICA

I remember vividly as a 5 year old “Big-boy’s” claws getting stuck in my long blond tangled hair... the faster I ran from this tame baby lion cub the louder it mewled and the feistier it became!

Tracking requires the highest degree of bushcraft skills no matter which continent you are in: one must have the ability to see and identify the signs, sounds and smells of the bush. I have just returned from an amazing trip to India where the tiger and leopard were the animals we most sought after. On all the gypsy {jeep} drives we had expert trackers and knowledgeable naturalists on board.

I’m an avid wild-lifer and have been since I was a little girl. My parents had a farm on the border of Kafue National Park in Zambia and we took many an opportunity to visit this untamed part of the world. “Big Boy” and “Little Boy” were 2 tame cubs being reared by a game keeper as their mother had been killed by a poacher. My mother tells a story of the herd of buffalo eating her garden and we would quite often have lion kills among the beautiful cattle that Dad raised. My brother raised many a hawk, an eagle, and a few brightly coloured parrots (in fact “Peter” lived to be 35 years old). Most were animals found wounded  by the workers on the farm.  When my parents moved to Mozambique in the latter years of my schooling we lived on the outskirts of the Gorongoza National Park famous for its large prides of lion. I took special interest in the cats and as a student studying to be a physical education teacher I was lucky enough to have a lecturer who was crazy about all wild things. Game counts in Hwange, wild trips down the Zambezi, hiking with leopards in Matobo were all part of our exciting life with this man.

So it was interesting for me to heed the experts in India and how they tracked the tiger for us. The skills seem to be the same but the method slightly different. The call of the jungle is the most important sound in India, the bark of a deer or the scream of the monkey will bring an instant halt of the gypsy (jeep). Engine off... listen ....tiger?... no leopard?...no definitely tiger. Close... very close!!  Oh my God the adrenaline starts surging through the veins and I know for almost certain we might have a sighting. The pug marks we saw 500 metres from the main gate apparently very new, still wet and heading north, were of a big male about half an hour ago. He’d killed the evening before and so the trackers knew him to be in that area, he was probably off to mark his territory now with a full stomach.   Another bark of the deer and the gypsy is in full flight in a northerly direction our driver and naturalist keen to show us their skills. We head down a smaller track, and again the gypsy engine is switched off. Silence for what seems like an age and then the frightened bark of the deer, a monkey screams a warning and our guides smile at each other. The tiger is truly one of the most majestic animals to behold. I saw 4 different tigers on this last trip. There was even a sighting under my stilt house at Kings Lodge situated on the buffer zone of the park - how exciting was that!!!

In Botswana last year, the call of the bush during the night was our guide Cee’s  big claim to a magnificent  lion sighting. As we set off for our early morning drive, cold air battering our frozen faces excited at the prospect of a possible lion sighting. Cee tells us that there has been much activity in the surrounding area. Two lion were calling each other most of the night, they came together  this morning and apparently are getting ready to hunt. On the dirt road we find the spoor of one lioness, she has walked a long way down the soft sandy road and disappears into the bush. Cee talks about the spoor we have followed, she is tired, she’s walked a long way through the night, we see where she lies every 100 metres or so, she may be limping slightly, possibly a thorn in her front right paw, possibly a damaged claw.  We find some more spoor leading into the bush from the other direction and into the bush. We circumnavigate the area and find two lots of spoor, 2 females heading in the same direction. Cee stops the vehicle, takes out binoculars. We all listen, study the spoor, take photos of the place they lay down for a rest and then suddenly a whisper, don’t move... under the bushes, 2 metres away are two beautiful lioness extremely well hidden in the undergrowth, we would surely have missed them had we not stopped right there.  On the back of a jeep one feels extremely vulnerable, but there is nothing quite like the intense raw feeling of excitement being so close to nature and danger, these are wild animals after all!

I will be leading a  small group jungle safari with Pugdundee Safaris for the finest wildlife experience in India in late October. It will involve 5 lodge stays, some stunning temples and a visit to the Taj Mahal. Phone Viv for more details and for an itinerary.