Part 1

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COVID 19 has thrust us into unfamiliar territory. How we make decisions during this time is vital. To emerge stronger we must be able to make good decisions despite the uncertainty.

We have much to learn from the world’s finest wildlife trackers. They make informed decisions that help them find the animals they pursue. Especially in difficult and uncertain circumstances, where evidence is often incomplete.

They have learnt to deal with a complex and uncontrollable wild environment.

As a result, they have an above-average success rate in finding animals.

They do not have advisors, instructions or algorithms to rely on. Nature is wordless.

Instead, they rely on technical competence and a superior understanding of the animals that they track.

They are constantly gathering information. This comes from a broad range of sources. Tracks on the ground, bird alarm calls, scents and the presence of other animals, to name a few.

When they find a track there is much to consider. Its age, what the animal is doing, and importantly, the suitability of the terrain for the tracking effort.

Past experiences are used to understand patterns of animal behaviour, which they remember. Past events also provide scope for a much wider range of decision-making options.

This is true situational analysis.

The Art Of Decision Making - Tracking Success

In 2019 Renias Mhlongo successfully tracked pumas in extraordinarily difficult conditions in Patagonia, Chile.

They make extensive use of inductive reasoning. From a single track, they are able to speculate what the animal is doing. With remarkable accuracy. To achieve this, they will construct an explanation from the signs they’ve observed, and then actively move to verify its validity.

Expert trackers develop deep ecological literacy. This allows them to link seemingly unrelated pieces of information – in a single picture. One that makes sense.

To form this mental image, the tracker must be constantly answering three golden questions.

For the beginner these questions are deliberate. But as the tracker builds experience, this becomes less conscious. Almost second nature.

Here the three questions;

  1. What are the tracks saying?

The tracker must have clarity on what he is tracking. Recognising and interpreting the details of the trail is vital to staying on track. The difference between a black and white rhino’s track on hard ground is minuscule. A lack of competence with detail has far-reaching consequences.

  1. What is the behaviour?

Knowing the animal’s habits is key. Whether the rhino is feeding or patrolling its territory is a crucial insight for the tracker. The best trackers are intimate with the subtleties of animal behaviour. This knowledge is used to anticipate and leapfrog ahead.

  1. How is the landscape influencing the animal’s movement?

Animals never move randomly. Water, food and shelter affect where they go. The physical environment has a profound effect on the animal’s choice of route. And the tracker will constantly investigate areas of greatest opportunity. And by contrast, avoid areas of potential danger.

The tracker must still follow the tracks to find the animal. But by answering these questions he develops a picture of what the animal is doing, and how to get close to it.

Expert trackers teach us that successful decision-making should include the following 3 reflections:

  • Attention to detail (tracks)
  • Consideration for others & one’s values (behaviour)
  • Regard for the circumstances & consequences (environment)

To learn more, contact us for a demo of our newly formed Tracking Success interactive documentary. It’s a virtual learning adventure that uses the ancient art of wildlife tracking as a metaphor for tracking organisational goals.

 

The Art Of Decision Making - Tracking Success

I have lived and worked with the world’s top wildlife trackers since I was 19 years old. People such as Renas Mhlongo and Karel Benadie.

I have been richly blessed. These are special people with unique skills and attributes.

Their deeply embedded competence places them in a league of their own.

But its more than just skills which sets them apart. They also possess a special blend of attributes.

Human qualities, that in combination with their skills, have kept them at the top of their game.

And it’s been put to the test, in all corners of the world. With leopards and lions in Africa, grizzly bears in North America and pumas in the hostile sierras of Patagonia.

To track successfully, the tracker must discern physical evidence and interpret the animal’s behaviour. Renias and Karel do this exceptionally well. Consistently.

I spent time discussing these traits with Grant Ashfield (Leadership Works) and whether business people can also learn from the trackers.

Here’s what came out…

  1. They know what they are good at.

They play to their strengths. Karel for example is excellent at trailing over rough, broken ground. Renias is brilliant at anticipating an animal’s direction.

These strengths (talents) are a big advantage. It helps them to find the animal efficiently and with little wasted effort. Equally, they know what they are not good at.

  1. They love what they do.

The motivation is intrinsic. Being on the trail is work, but it’s work with meaning. They are happy and relaxed because they are doing what they are best at – what they love.

Their reward is not only finding the animal. The process itself simulates them. It’s where they express themselves. Thus they track when it’s hot and uncomfortable. This perseverance makes them more successful more often.

 

Richard Siwela spent 40 years tracking leopards at Londolozi

 

  1. They balance rational thought with creativity.

Trailing an elusive animal requires them to be both literal and imaginative. Competence with the detail and big-picture thinking is foundational to their mastery.

They zoom in and zoom out of these two modes effortlessly.

Engaging with the minutiae of the trail is vital. They combine physical evidence with the ever-changing information of the landscape. The environment influences the animal’s behaviour. This is creativity in action and is used to anticipate and leapfrog ahead.  

  1. They are constantly learning

There is never a moment of ‘I’ve arrived’. Curiosity is a signature feature of their personality.

Despite their vast experience they have an intense desire to know and understand more. Growing their knowledge and skills is a habit.

Losing the track does not derail them. It represents a fresh opportunity to learn. It’s all part of the process. Amidst the uncertainty, they show calmness, common sense, and competence.

  

Renias Mhlongo’s energy and love for tracking has not subsided in four decades

 

  1. They radiate conviction and confidence

They are positive almost to a fault. Self-limiting beliefs about their ability to find the animal seldom gain traction. They simply believe they will be successful.

This is contagious. It inspires confidence in those (less experienced) tracking with them. Younger trackers learn from this. It strengthens their resilience and desire to keep going.

It also means that one feels safe with them even in unpredictable situations – when the animal shows aggression.  

  1. They love teaching others.

Both Renias and Karel are patient and dedicated teachers. They are devoted to growing the next generation of wildlife trackers.

This is integral to their work. To ensure they are useful and economically active in their communities. This means growing skills, filling them with confidence and exposing them directly to opportunity.

  1. They are humble.

This is possibly their greatest attribute. The one that makes all the others possible. They are modest and unassuming.

Their tracking is not a demonstration designed to impress. They seldom allow their ego to dominate proceedings.

This also means they show compassion and empathy for their subject. They get ‘into the skin of the animal’. Their mindset is one of purpose, intention, and quiet determination.

 

 

Karel ‘Pokkie’ Benadie is the epitome of humble.

 

I am inspired by the lessons I’ve learned from expert trackers. I reflected on the value these provide for organisations in difficult times. Imagine the positive effect the tracker can have on people’s lives.

Are you on track?

Use these 10 questions to reflect on your journey so far:

  1. Do you know what you are good at?
  2. Do you understand what your special talent is and play to this strength?
  3. Do you love what you do?
  4. Does your reward come from doing the work or just achieving the goal?
  5. Can you connect the detail with the big picture…can you zoom in and out?
  6. Are you constantly learning?
  7. Do your words and actions inspire hope and confidence in others?
  8. Do people feel safe around you?
  9. Do you invest significant time and energy teaching the next generation?
  10. Do you have your ego in check?

We love hearing from you. Please comment on the post below. We’ll pick three responses and each person will receive a free copy of my and Renias’s new book, Changing a Leopards Spots

 

 

Alex with his book at Exclusive Books

The book may be ordered on Takealot

An extract from chapter called “Path of a tracker

“Eventually the day came for my second attempt at the trailing component of the evaluation and, by extension, the full Senior Tracker qualification. Louis Liebenberg decided to conduct my evaluation at Londolozi, which did a lot to reduce my nervousness. We drove west from the Londolozi camp and stopped next to a small waterhole known as Guarri Pan, where I noticed evidence of a sin- gle lioness. I could see the tracks were reasonably fresh but I was concerned that committing to a lone lioness would present a particularly difficult trail for me to follow. I had no option, though; I could hardly ask the evaluators to look for a friendlier lion trail! Renias’s brother, Elmon, who had recently qualified as Senior Tracker, accompanied Louis and me in the capacity of observer and local expert and co-evaluator.

‘Good luck, mfo,’ said Elmon as I hauled my tracking stick off the Land Rover and climbed off. I could feel my nerves and I sensed I needed some good fortune so I was pleased to get his encouragement. I first scouted the area for a few minutes to establish the lioness’s direction. I desperately needed her to be going east or north as I knew that landscape intimately and it was also where the sandy soils were more conducive to seeing tracks. A southerly direction would also have been doable but not as good as east or north. West would be the worst outcome as the terrain there changed to the clayey black cotton soil, hard and dark, similar to the habitat where Renias grew up.

The lioness’s tracks crossed the road in front of me directly north of Guarri Pan and I started to trail her. Within five minutes of following her, she had changed her bearing and was heading directly west. This was the worst possible start and my uncle Philip’s often-mentioned words of advice, ‘It’s not about what happens to you but what you do about it,’ which had become something of a mantra for me at this time of my life, came into my head. I had no option but to keep trying. The lioness’s tracks then crossed a road, Elmon’s Kraal, named after an old man who used to live in the area, and I stopped there to have a good look at the condition of the tracks at that point. Another Land Rover had driven over her tracks, partially obscuring them and depositing a lot of dust onto them.

I carried on walking up the road for a few metres and discovered the tracks of another lioness. Two lionesses was a small gift, I thought to myself. The lionesses were walking about 10 metres away from each other, in parallel, and heading in the same direction. I was pretty sure I’d tracked the two lionesses in the same general area on one of my lone training sessions, and that gave me a sense of confidence. I was buoyed by this and I started to trail with good momentum and, for the time being, I felt good.

The trail then entered a woodland of long and drying grass where it was clear a host of other animals had spent the night. I’d just started to develop some sort of flow when the track totally disappeared. I looked up ahead but couldn’t find anything so I decided to play it safe and return to my last confirmed piece of evidence; a track superimposed on a buffalo dropping. I considered whether the lions were following the buffalo but I knew these lionesses and they were not known for hunting buffalo. I progressed painstakingly slowly for a few metres and was able to recognise another faint track, still heading west. Earlier that morning, while drinking my coffee, I’d heard lions calling a long way to the west and I wondered whether these lionesses were on their way to meet up with the rest of their pride.

I pressed on, cognisant that I shouldn’t get myself too caught up in the detail if the evidence wasn’t reliably there and so I made a mini prediction of where the trail was headed. This was my first attempt at anticipating the lionesses’ movements and is a part of the evaluation the evaluators are very critical of in a Senior Tracker test. I walked on a bearing I thought was the right one, and when I came upon a clear game path with open soil, I saw no tracks. My prediction of their direction of movement was wrong and I started to doubt myself. I began to question whether the tracks were even that fresh. Had the vehicle that had driven over the tracks perhaps travelled the previous afternoon? A feeling of dread filled my body and I found myself fundamentally re-examining and querying my original hypothesis and it caused me to hesitate.

What would Renias have done in this scenario? I ran over the events so far and remembered the feeling I’d had upon finding that lioness’s track, that familiar excitement whenever I saw a nice fresh lion track. I must be right, I thought. Speculating on a feeling was perhaps an imperfect approach and I was possibly grasping at straws. Maybe I’d never been very good at accurately ageing tracks, I said to myself. So many thoughts were running through my head, which was causing confusion and distracting me from the task at hand.

In an attempt to re-centre myself, I reminded myself that the last confirmed lion track I had seen had been heading up the slope towards the crest so I tentatively proceeded that way. I started thinking about how much fun I’d had practising my tracking skills over the last few months, and how this evaluation embodied the complete opposite. The test’s anxiety construct was in full gallop and it was causing me to question my every decision. If I was going to succeed I had to find a way to calm myself and focus. Thoughts such as ‘I need to pass this’ and ‘What will I say to people if I fail?’ were racing through my mind and were thwarting my ability to perform.

When I had been practising alone in the bush, I never had any of those thoughts and had never doubted myself, and consequently I was able to express myself freely in my ability to follow the tracks. I found some calmness within myself by consciously substituting all the limiting self-judgements I was making with one clear thought, ‘I will find.’ It was an old mantra of Renias’s that brought feelings of familiarity and freedom, feelings that had been eluding me up to this point.

If Renias had been there, he would’ve backed his ability to recognise a track up ahead in the knowledge that he’d made the correct decision and was headed in the right direction. I consciously made the decision to do the same. I surmised that there was nothing to suggest that the lions would suddenly change their direction.”

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