Wildlife series. Steve Backshall demonstrates how reading the tracks and signs left by an animal can lead to fantastic encounters.
Browse content similar to Tracks and Signs. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
My name's Steve Backshall...
'..and this is my search for the Deadly 60.'
That's not just animals that are deadly to me,
but that are deadly in their own world.
'My crew and I are travelling the planet...'
And you're coming with me every step of the way.
'A quest to find deadly animals from around the globe may sound
'like the greatest job ever. And it is.
'But sometimes, it's harder than it looks.
'Some animals practically leap out at you.
'Others have to be tracked down by the signs they leave behind.'
No matter where you go in the world,
there will always be wild animals out there,
whether you see them or not.
The trick is learning to read the story they leave behind.
This edition of Deadly 60 is going to help you read those signs.
Tracks and signs, our very own wildlife CSI.
There's a knuckle print.
Its claws on the trunk here.
Outside is absolutely littered with bones.
The bark's been completely rubbed off this tree.
You can even see the bits of hair that it's left behind.
That is lion dung.
I can smell it. It's very fresh, believe me! Don't step in that.
'To find the clues, we need to use our three main senses.
'That's sight, sound...
'These help us to locate the animals, see what they've been doing
'and even learn about their deadly lifestyle.
'First up, we need to use our eyes to look out for visual clues.
'Perhaps the most awesome predator in Namibia is the lion.
'Huge, ferocious felines.
'But not always that easy to spot.
'Time to get tracking.'
There is absolutely oodles going on around here.
I mean, looking down at the ground, there's...
Well, that's oryx droppings.
These are blue wildebeest.
There is so much going on. But this...
is the real deal.
That is the biggest carnivore poo you'll find around here.
Full of hair.
Kind of black and tarry and stinky.
That is lion dung.
Oh, have a look at this.
'These feathers belong to an avian undertaker - the vulture.
'Chances are an animal has met its end nearby.'
And...one very dead oryx.
Somewhere round here, lions have been at work
and had their meal.
'So we've clear evidence that lions have been here.
'But the carcass and dung were several days old.
'We need fresher signs.
'We set up camp nearby, with the hope of getting back on their trail
'in the morning.
'Only a fool would sleep out in lion country without any protection.
'For us, it's a makeshift fence, made from thorn bushes.
'Locals call this protective fence a boma.
'It's enough to put off all but the most determined of predators.
'These acacia trees have spines like big needles.'
But it's these spines that we're going to use as our protection
in the walls of our boma.
'The signs in the sand told us there are dangerous animals around here.
'So we should take the right precautions.
'Reading the signs around you could save your life.'
It's a good job we built that boma.
Makes you think, tonight we're going to have to be very vigilant.
Make sure we're on the lookout all the time.
'At night, human eyesight is dulled by darkness.
'It's time to feed up and then sleep.
'But for animals that see well in the dark,
'it's feeding time.
'Our night vision's poor but you can still read wild signs by listening.'
It's about two o'clock in the morning
and I've just been woken up by the sound of spotted hyena calling.
Just off in the distance that way.
It's very exciting and a little bit spooky,
knowing that just beyond the walls of our boma,
there could be just about anything wandering about.
There's a lion. There's a lion calling off in the distance,
off that way. It's quite a way away.
But they can travel huge distances in the night.
No reason why he couldn't come past here.
'A lion's roar is like language, saying,
'"This is my territory, don't mess with me."
'Or, "I feel like hunting." If you learn their language,
'you can suss what they're up to without ever seeing them.'
When you're looking for tracks,
the first and probably most important thing
is the ground that they're laid down in.
Certain kinds of ground will hold a track much better than others.
For example, the soft banks of a river...
But sand is also wonderful.
And look at those prints.
You will never get better than that.
'These tracks are super-fresh.'
So once you've found your print,
the next thing is to try and work out what kind of animal left them.
is about the size of my hand.
So we're talking about a good-sized animal.
We've got four very clear, rounded front toes.
And a pad at the back.
Now, this is an absolutely perfect cat print.
The way I can tell it's a cat and not a dog is that there are
no visible claws at the front of each toe.
All of the big cats apart from cheetahs can retract their claws
into their toes, as they're walking along.
Which protects them and keeps them sharp.
'So we have droppings,
'an old carcass, calls...'
There's a lion calling off in the distance, off that way.
'..And now, crisp, fresh tracks.'
These are the prints of a lion.
OK, once you've figured out which animal the prints belong to,
next you can figure out other things by looking at the prints closely.
First of all, the direction it's travelling in.
The toes at the front, here...
..and at the front here,
so this animal's been going in this direction.
And this animal's been going this way.
Once you start to look carefully,
you can figure out what speed they've been travelling at,
how many animals there are, possibly even how old they are,
just by looking at the prints.
There's a whole wonderful drama that can unfold down here in the sand.
Oh, look at those tracks!
'The clarity of the tracks means they were made very recently.
'Follow a fresh track and you may find what made it.'
(Look at that.)
(Oh, that's some purpose.)
Looks like they've spotted something.
(There's a couple of warthog off to our left.)
Our lions have spotted them.
And this is the perfect time for things to start happening.
The warthog are getting closer, they don't realise what they're doing.
This one here's moving forward with purpose.
It's going to happen.
One down... No, he's got away. He got away!
Scattered in completely different directions.
And one over there...
Unfortunately it's just met its end in the thicket just over there.
The others all escaped.
That would have to be one of the quickest,
most completely perfect hunts I think I've ever seen.
'Becoming aware of what's been going on in the wild world around you
'can lead to unforgettable encounters.
'And it's not just large mammals that leave tracks.
'In the Namibian deserts,
'we were looking for a different kind of predator.
'Sand dunes are exhausting to get around in.
'so desert creatures have very specialised ways of moving
'and leave distinctive marks behind.'
We're out looking for the absolute master hunter of the desert.
This is the Peringuey's adder, otherwise known as the sidewinder.
Now, they're only very small, but they are very, very deadly
and we've got an ENORMOUS amount of dunes to cover.
So, what I suggest is that we all spread out in a line
and we're looking for a sign...
..that looks something...like this.
As I've mentioned before, sand holds a track really well.
Our snake doesn't leave a footprint,
but its body leaves a flick mark as it sidewinds.
The long shadows of dawn and dusk make tracks much easier to spot,
so these are the best times to go out tracking.
When the sun's directly overhead, the tracks barely stand out at all.
Sidewinders usually move by night,
which means we have to find one fast,
before his tracks are blown away by the wind.
WHISTLING Over here!
-What have you got?
Our camouflage killer has been busted by his slithering signs.
Did you spot them, Mark?
I have, mate. I have got the tracks.
-Did I hear right? Did someone shout "sidewinder"?
-Just running up the face of that dune?
Yes! You beauty!
They start down here... And look at that!
That is just perfect.
-Which way is he going?
-Actually, he's going this way.
I don't know, mate.
So, all we need to do is follow the tracks.
Sidewinders bury themselves
in the soft sand at the base of grasses like these.
I've got him! I've got him.
I can see his head.
Just down there.
And you probably can't even see him, but if I take my snake hook...
..and you follow the line directly down from the end of that...
All that pokes above the sand is a well-hidden snout and tiny eyes.
Imagine trying to find that in all this desert
without finding the trail first.
Thick, leather gloves.
Oh-ho-ho-ho! Look at that!
What an utterly beautiful little snake.
This is the master of the dunes.
But the thing that makes the snake so special
is what left that track over there.
Sidewinding. It's its method of moving on these soft shifting sands.
We're hopefully about to see one of the most remarkable ways
of getting around in the animal kingdom.
Look at that!
This is such an efficient way
of moving across sand.
He just throws one coil of the body forward,
anchors it and throws the next one forward.
And he's moving across very soft sand here. That is brilliant.
Using this method, he can go up the steepest dunes
and look at the track he's leaving behind.
And, hopefully, when he gets some soft sand, he'll bury himself.
Here he goes.
Just gently worming the body in, easing himself down into the sand
and then those camouflage colours are going to come into play.
And he will disappear.
That is utterly remarkable.
Sidewinder...on the Deadly 60.
One of the best-camouflaged creatures in the world,
given away by a simple slither.
Look at those prints.
The marks animals leave when they move around are just the beginning.
Look at that!
These tracks can get blown away...
or even melt.
However, there's something else they leave behind.
OK. Now, you don't want to be too squeamish.
If you pull it apart, particularly if it's a herbivore -
that is, an animal that feeds exclusively on plant matter -
it's not going to do you any harm.
You can really get a sense of what this animal's been eating.
And, inside here, we've got lots of the indigestible bits of plants.
So there's the stems and the stalks from things like this.
There's also the midribs from the leaves,
and it's all clustered together in quite a fresh lump.
A good smell...will actually tell me that this is quite old.
This has been here for a while.
So you can learn an awful lot about an animal,
just by looking at its poo.
Very important, though - wash your hands afterwards.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, this comes from a forest elephant.
The first place you should learn to track is your home patch.
You might be surprised what's going on in your local woodlands,
if you take the time to look.
For human beings, going to the toilet
is just all about getting waste products out of your body.
But for some animals, it's a whole means of communication.
They actually save up their poo and do it all together in one spot,
called a latrine, and around me now are loads of little lumps.
Dung tells you what an animal's been eating
and can be a big clue as to what it might be.
This one is really fresh.
That one there is from last night.
Still very, very sticky.
Quite highly-scented, but not unpleasant, actually.
And if you look closely,
I can actually do a proper animal CSI right here,
because those little white dots there are eggs from a fly.
And the fact that they haven't even
started hatching out into maggots yet
means that this is within the day that they've laid their eggs
and it was probably last night that this dung was left.
The poo was also full of beetle wing casings.
Let's find some other signs and see if you can guess what left it.
Despite this being a particularly beautiful patch of woodland,
it does look like someone's been through here
with an industrial digger, just turning up the ground.
All of this here is material that's been dug out from deep in there.
And that's been done by a very, very powerful animal,
an absolute digging machine.
Somewhere under the ground around us now is a whole clan,
a big extended family of badgers. They're nocturnal.
During the daytime, they'll be fast asleep.
But come dusk, come the early evening, they'll come out to forage.
But that doesn't mean that during the daytime,
there isn't plenty of sign of what they've been up to.
It may seem strange that creatures of the woodland use paths,
like we do, but they definitely do,
partially because they're creatures of habit, partially for ease.
You can see through here,
all of these bluebells are flattened down low and some definite evidence
that we've got badgers coming through here.
A fox or a deer would just daintily step over the top of these trees,
but you can see that low-slung badgers
have actually worn off the moss with their bodies.
Oh, and look at this as well.
That...is a badger hair.
Our culprit is definitely close by.
Though badgers build their homes
and lead a lot of their lives in woodlands like this,
these fields are wonderful places for them to go out at night
and go looking for food, particularly earthworms,
insects, insect larvae, which they can dig down for in the soft ground.
So places like here, where the woodland meets the field
and they're going to have to move under fences like this...
you quite often see signs that they've been here.
Look at all that badger fur, white and black.
With their thick coats, they barely notice
that they were scraping by under this fence, but it's a sure sign
that the badgers have been moving through here.
The joy of tracking is that you can learn about
the lives of the animals around you even when you can't see them.
Hair and dung are choice clues for the animal detective,
but some signs are even more dramatic.
Searching for leopard in Namibia, we came across a cave
with a dark secret.
This is really exciting.
There's a small cave entrance here,
and the outside is absolutely littered with bones.
There's a strong smell coming from inside.
There's something living in here.
Charlie, can I have the camera?
I'm going to tread carefully, because...
it could be a hyena or a leopard,
but I think it's something else.
I'm going to be quite cautious.
This is a properly eerie place.
Someone is living inside.
Just sitting quietly in the corner up here...
is a porcupine.
He's watching me very closely, but...
what I really don't want is for him to back up and charge me
with those quills.
That's the weapon that he'll use
to drive off animals as big as lions.
Porcupines are actually well known for dragging...
the bones from disused carcasses
up to the places they're sleeping. That's not to say that
a hyena or a leopard hasn't used this cave before,
but at the moment,
this little fella lives here.
OK, let's leave him be.
That big bone pile could have pointed to a messy predator,
but it was always more likely to be a porcupine.
They chew on bones to get vital minerals.
You can track animals from discarded bits of food...
On a mission in British Columbia, in Canada, we were on the trail of
what can be best described as an eight-legged sea monster.
It looks like John's found something cool!
I'm not sure what it is,
but he seems quite excited.
This pile of discarded shellfish is evidence of a local hunter
with a big appetite.
Oh, wow, look at this!
There's a large area...
of scattered shells...
..big chunks of dead crab.
Up here, we've got the, er...
the carapace of a dead crab. This is definitely the work...
..of the super-predator that we've come here to find.
Now, all we need to do is find the animal itself.
The giant creature we're looking for is a specialist at
dismembering its armoured prey. But even it doesn't eat the shells,
and they lead us right to its den.
It's a Giant Pacific Octopus.
And I think they're in this hole... Oh, my goodness, yes, I see one!
Now, that is a big octopus!
We gently coax him out into the open.
Oh, my goodness!
He's absolutely monstrous.
And I thought this was a small one!
Oh, my goodness!
It feels like it could rip my arm out of its socket!
Those bits of shell were the undersea equivalent of a skeleton
lying on the African plains.
They were a sure sign that a predator
was feeding nearby.
So, we've shown you how spotting footprints
can help you track down animals... Smell.
..and finding droppings, or signs like hair and bones, can act
as clues to where they've been, or where they're hiding.
When you're tracking wildlife, it's very tempting to just use your eyes
and forget about your other senses, and that's a big mistake,
particularly your hearing can open a whole new wild world
of things that are going on around you but you might not see.
Zeroing in on a song, call, or noises from movement
-can lead you straight to an animal.
ROARING, THEN SQUEAKING
WAILING, THEN SQUEAKING
WHISTLING, THEN BELLOWING
GURGLING, THEN SQUEAKING
-HOWLING, THEN BELLOWING
-Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha!
In the jungles of Madagascar, we tracked
one of the noisiest animals around.
We kept moving in the direction we thought the sounds were coming from,
then when the sounds seemed quieter,
we listened again and changed direction.
DISTANT ANIMAL CALLS
That is the sound of the animal we're trying to find this morning.
They're still quite a way off.
It's the Indri, the largest species of lemur...
-..and what a sound.
MORE DISTANT CALLING
After trekking deep into the forest,
following the haunting calls of the Indri,
we're finally rewarded with our first glimpse.
I think there might be two... Yeah, there's two over there.
-There's one there...
It's one of the loudest, completely natural noises I've ever heard.
The Indris are calling to mark out their territory.
They're making sure that other Indris around know where they are,
that this is their patch and they shouldn't come any closer.
Totally eerie and weird.
Like some bizarre trumpet call.
And there are other Indris off in the distance singing back as well.
He's sat so close, I feel like I could reach out
and take him by the hand, just eating.
When animals are eating in front of you,
it means they're comfortable
it means they're not stressed out.
And they're that comfortable,
these inquisitive creatures come right in
to have a closer look at us.
Oh, wow, they're so bouncy!
It's like one big rubber ball full of stored-up energy.
And those long limbs...
What would you give to be able to do that?
Eyes, ears and a nose for a story could all help you find
wild wonders you might otherwise miss.
Now, it's your turn. Become a wildlife detective
and look at the world around you with your eyes wide open.
Join me next time,
as I continue my search for the Deadly 60.
He just stuck his tongue in my eye.
How good is that?!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Steve demonstrates how reading the tracks and signs left by an animal can lead to fantastic encounters. Lions, octopuses and badgers all feature in this special as Steve and his trusty crew travel the planet reading the signs they leave behind.