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In the Footsteps of Giants: A Journey into the World of San Master Trackers

Koru Camp San master trackers from the Ju/’hoansi community share their ancient bush knowledge with young learners. They taech them to read the subtlest of clues in nature – from a slightly displaced rock to a barely noticeable scuff in the soil – leading them on the trail of a giraffe. This immersive experience fosters a deep respect for nature and the San community, as the learners listen to stories fo a life in harmony with the wilderness and learn survivial techniques and the art of tracking

Deep in contemplative thought, the silence between the two San master trackers was interrupted only by the occasional ‘click’ noise of their delicate language as they pointed at the ground, carefully exchanging ideas. Standing in wait, six young learners watched eagerly as the two men from the Ju/’hoansi community disappeared into the thick bush ahead. They were on the trail of a giraffe whose tracks lead into difficult, rocky terrain. Now moving on instinct and the tiniest of clues, such as a few blades of bent-over grass, the group waited with baited breath as the men harnessed their skill.

After several minutes, /ui Kxunta, the elder of the two trackers, motioned the group to catch up. Some 50 metres into the bush, they had finally found the evidence that they were looking for: a single, inconspicuous rock amongst a hundred others. About the size of a fist, it has a slight gap of just 2mm between one edge and the surrounding soil. This was all the confirmation that these talented Bushmen needed to know they were on the right path.

Explaining further, fellow tracker #oma Daqm showed how the giraffe’s foot would have lazily hit the stone hours before, displacing it by a minute amount. Sure enough, another ten meters ahead, an almost imperceptible scuff in the soil betrayed the animal’s footfall. In that moment, guides and learners alike realised just how in tune these two quiet men were with the nature around them.

Over the course of the next three days, /ui Kxunta and #oma Daqm shared a glimpse of their lifetime of bush knowledge with their bright, young mentees. To the San elders, this was a chance to pass on their disappearing skills to a new generation whilst creating a platform to become self-sufficient in today’s modern world. These wise, softly-spoken men with deeply lined faces are the guardians of an ancient way of life – from the art of tracking, navigation, and survival to understanding the nuances of plant medicine and animal behaviour.

As a team, the young and old together identified different species by their tracks – from leopards and lions to waterbuck and even banded mongoose. They collectively whooped with delight as the first learners managed to emulate their San mentors and make fire from scratch. They listened intently as the trackers shared stories of their lives lived almost entirely removed from modern civilisation, hunting by poison arrow and sleeping in trees to evade wily predators. And they stood by with quiet fascination as the traditional hunter-gatherers described how they made their unique bows from the resources around them, even letting the learners have a go at target shooting. 

Where opportunity presented itself, the group ventured out on foot from the vehicle. On one particular morning, having encountered fresh elephant tracks, /ui Kxunta, #oma Daqm  and lead guide Clive Thompson from the Discovery Wilderness Trust decided to follow up. Moving in single file, the silence was thick with anticipation as the young nature enthusiasts delved deeper into the wilderness. Eventually arriving at the brimming Olifants River, the bush opened up to a breath-taking expanse. Looking to their left, there he was. A young elephant bull studiously drinking the water through his long trunk, completely unaware of the presence of his onlookers. 

Taking a few minutes to savour the presence of this majestic animal, the guides, trackers and young learners stood in quietude. For some, it was one of just a handful of encounters with these giant pachyderms and their eyes were locked on with innate curiosity. Eventually, however, the spell was broken as the rest of the herd began arriving on their right. With a potentially unwelcome situation developing, the group calmly retreated away from the river and back to the safety of the vehicle – though not before happily spotting a second herd on their way.

At the end of the trip and with a wealth of stories, insights and exciting wildlife sightings behind them, a new respect was found for both nature and the gentle San community that lives amongst it. As a conservation non-profit itself, Koru Camp’s ethos lies in empowering wildlife communities by providing them real access to Greater Kruger’s wilderness areas. From wide-eyed children at local community schools to the wise old grandmas – or ‘Gogos’ – who have lived their entire lives just a stone’s throw from Kruger National Park without ever venturing inside, all are welcome here.

Indeed, for these six youngsters, the seed has most certainly been planted to grow a deep love of the natural world – and perhaps a few might even become the trackers, guides or nature guardians of the future. Koru Camp founder, Peter Eastwood, explains it perfectly when he says “Conserving our natural heritage should be our collective goal. Yet, we cannot expect the community to love and embrace wildlife and natural places if they are excluded from them. Koru Camp, and the experiences we create here, is hoping to change that”.

About the Course

The Master Trackers’ educational visit to Koru Camp was an initiative of the Ju/’hoansi Trackers Association and the Discovery Wilderness Trust, funded in the main by the Trust with support from the Tanglewood Foundation. The Association has strong links with CyberTracker. The participants were fully sponsored by The Tanglewood Foundation. Five learners were invited to attend from partner non-profit organisations: Rhino Revolution, GVI Limpopo, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, Nourish, Green Light and Cambridge. One learner participated as a nominee of the Discovery Wilderness Trust.

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