On Track: Quick ID Guide to Southern and East African Animal Tracks – Review
The On Track: Quick ID Guide to Southern and East African Animal Tracks, by husband and wife team Chris and Tilde Stuart, lives up to its name as a small, concise, and supremely portable reference guide to the tracks of more than 80 species of wildlife found throughout Southern and East Africa. As a very reasonably priced e-book (available in Kindle, ePub, ePDF, and print) with color photos, the Quick ID Guide satisfies the amateur tracker’s need for a pocket-sized reference to common species tracks and track sizes. This guide does not explain in-depth tracking methodology or animal behavior insight necessary to track quarry, but it does give some helpful hints on finding tracks, basic tracking, and whether or not the species is likely to be found in small or large groups (which determines how many related tracks might be nearby).
Each species or group of related species (antelopes, rabbits, birds) has a color photo of a real track along with a black and white image of what a perfect track or set of tracks would look like. This provides contrast, size comparisons, and a reminder that not all animals have feet of the same size front and back and their stride or stance may be different even from similar species. Some of the species in the Quick ID Guide have a color photo of a characteristic example of the species as well as an explanation of how that track is made. This latter detail is particularly important for the many species of ungulates — many of whom walk on their toes and whose tracks can be hard to tell apart — as well as scorpions, snakes, and lizards who may leave specific tail impressions in soft terrain, making their tracks much more unique and identifiable, but not obvious since they may lack feet or distinct toe marks. For species that leave tracks with toes and feet an average track length for front and hind feet is also provided in millimeters so that comparisons can be made while in the field.
Tracks shown in the Quick ID Guide include African elephants, wide-lipped (white) rhinoceros, hook-lipped (black) rhinoceros, zebra, hippopotamus, a large variety of antelope, meerkat, hyena, big cats, genet, civet, monkeys, African wild dog, birds with and without webbed feet, and several species of reptiles. The field guide also showcases a few common domestic animal tracks (dog, cat, sheep, goats, cattle, horse) that one might come across in the field, especially on or near tribal concessions where land is mixed-use.
Overall the digital versions of On Track: Quick Id Guide to Southern and East African Animal Tracks are a great value to those interested in learning the tracks of common animals of Southern and East Africa. However there are a few let-downs: most of the images are very, very low quality so that the file size of the book is not too large. This means that tracks can not been enlarged significantly (and cannot be shown life-size). Not every species has a color photo of an individual of the species, such as the common eland and sitatunga, which would have been beneficial to first-time wildlife watchers that want to visually pair a track with an animal. Some species, including the bushpig, warthog, and rock python, do have photos. Still, the value of this field guide is immense and it can be easily and conveniently paired with behavioral field guides such as The Safari Companion: Safari Companion or even one of the Stuart’s other books on wildlife tracks: A Field Guide to the Tracks & Signs of Southern, Central & East African Wildlife (which can be hard to find in North America).