Animal Tracks: General
IT is always easier to get boys interested in a subject when something that moves is incorporated in it. The models they construct of their own free will are usually working models. Animals interest them because their hunting instincts are awakened. So in tracking they become more interested when it is a question of studying the habits, or following the track of, something that is alive.
So far we have worked through the various stages of Observation, Deduction, and Simple Tracking that lead up to the more difficult stage of Animal Tracking, or Spooring; but we should still be alive to the fact that, in order to get Scouts interested in the subject at all, it may be necessary to begin with the more advanced stage, and start tracking wild things. Even in a town mice, rats, cats and dogs furnish lots of tracks. Hedgehogs are fairly numerous right up to town limits, and leave an interesting and difficult track. Badgers and foxes are not uncommon. Birds are everywhere and leave clear tracks on favorable ground.
It will readily be recognized that the tracking done when we start in the middle will not be so good, or give such good results, as if we had worked right through the preliminary stages. But once a start has been made at any point, and the Scouts have got interested, then it is possible to go back and build up the foundations of the art properly, and to show, by specific example within the knowledge of the Troop, the importance of close observation and reasoned deduction. The common mistake made is that these preliminary stages are left out altogether, with the inevitable result that the Scouts can never attain more than a fixed, and low, standard of ability in their tracking.
In order to be any good at all at the tracking of animals it is necessary to make a somewhat exhaustive study of the various characteristics and habits of the animals whose tracks are likely to be encountered in the neighborhood, and also to learn to know the form and the track of each animal's foot.
In the theoretical study of the subject we first have to consider the general anatomic makeup of the various classes of animals.
Our first study should be the formation of the foot. I believe that all animals are supposed originally to have possessed five toes, and to have utilized them more or less in the way in which a gorilla uses his to-day. In process of time, however, each type of animal developed different characteristics according to the mode of life it adopted and the locality in which it existed. The formation of the foot changed at the same time to fit in with these characteristics until to-day we have three clearly marked divisions under which the feet of every kind of animal can be classed.
All animals that walk on the flat of the foot are termed Sole-Walkers (plantigrade) and retain more or less the original formation of the foot. The sole-walkers, as a class, are most cosmopolitan. We ourselves are sole-walkers, as I hope you will have realized, and have as our companions such diverse animals as bears, porcupines, hedgehogs, monkeys and gorillas, badgers, otters, hares and rabbits, to mention only a few examples.
Those that walk on their toes, using the Ball of the foot - instead of the flat of the foot and the toes, usually four, are termed Toe-Walkers (digitigrade). Here again we find a somewhat mixed class which includes all the members of both the canine and the feline tribes. Cats and dogs, leopards and jackals, tigers and hyenas are all toe-walkers.
Then there is a third, and large, class of animals that walk on the points of their toes, like ballet dancers. In process of time their toes, or four of them, have grown together until they have become hooves. This class is known as the Nail-Walkers (ungulates) and can, for purposes of comparison or otherwise, be sub-divided into two - animals with a solid hoof, and animals with a cloven hoof. Examples of this class and of its subdivisions are fairly obvious. Horses, mules and zebras, say, are solid-hoofed nail-walkers, while cows, deer, sheep and goats are cloven- hoofed nail-walkers.
There is a very interesting point in connection with the sub-division of the nail-walkers. All animals that chew the cud have a cloven hoof, and only one single animal that does not chew the cud has a cloven hoof, namely, the pig. By elaborating that one single point it is possible to learn a good deal about the habits of these various animals which led to the formation of the cloven hoof. I once heard an Indian Shikari assert that somewhere behind the Himalayas there lived a goat who did not chew the cud, and, consequently, had a solid hoof. I'm afraid he was romancing, although I wish he had not been, because I have been at pains to try to discover if there was such an animal, and have failed, despite invoking the assistance of the Royal Zoological Society!
And so it is that a single print on the ground may enable the would-be tracker to place the animal that made it in one of the above three classes, but there are other considerations to be taken into account.
An article in the Canadian Forest and Outdoors pointed the moral thus:
"The track of the flat-footed bear could not possibly be made by anything that walked on the tips of its toes! Let us suppose that our Tenderfoot sees the track of a sole-walker. He is 'way up north and, being far from human habitation, knows that it cannot have been made by a dog or a cat. It is long in shape and has the mark of five toes and nails. A bear perhaps! He pursues in haste. Curiosity and excitement banish all fear. With eager eyes he follows the trail and, after miles of tramping, at last reaches the goal to find, alas! that the bear is but a porcupine!"
Our next consideration then is to see whether it is not possible to obtain another anatomic classification.
The build of the animal must obviously have some influence on the way he moves, just as we have seen the build of a man will have an influence on the way he walks. So it is that a further general classification into four classes has been arrived at, and is utilized world-wide.
The first class comprises those animals whose length of body is in correct proportion to their height, and, consequently, whose legs are also proportionate to the body and about equal in length. In this large class are included horses, cattle, deer, canines, felines, etc.
The second class contains animals whose hind legs are much longer than their front legs, such as hares, rabbits, squirrels, kangaroos.
To the third class belong those animals whose legs are short in proportion to their bodies, as otters, weasels, stoats, ferrets, martens, and so on.
The fourth class includes those animals whose legs are very short in proportion to their bodies, and whose bodies are also very fat, badgers, beavers, hedgehogs, porcupines.
It is not so easy to classify every animal accurately in one only of the above classes according to the way it moves. Some animals will show characteristics of gait which appear to belong to two classes. For instance, I can never be quite sure in my own mind if squirrels belong to the second or third class. I have seen some squirrels running by using their back legs as springs which places them in the second class, and at other times moving by a series of leaps from all four feet which would place them in the third class.
There must, it appears, be a certain amount of intermediate classification which is in keeping with the characteristics of locality and livelihood that make for evolution.
The normal walk is the basis of all tracking comparison, whether with human beings or other animals, but in considering the gait of the first class we have also to consider the trot and the gallop of proportionate animals.
It will make it easier to follow if we take a particular animal and study the way he moves. The horse is a common, and possibly the best, example, as we can in actual practice see for ourselves how he moves. If we hear of a slow-motion picture of the movements of any animal being shown at the local cinema, we should always make a point of going to see it. We will then be able to follow the order and way in which the animal lifts and places his legs much more clearly than we would in actual life.
When a horse walks it plants its feet diagonally. If the near (right) fore foot touches the ground first, the off (left) hind foot is placed next, then the off fore foot, and lastly the near hind foot. Thus it moves all four feet one after another, so that four footfalls may be heard, but it does not move the two on the same side one after the other. All the animals in this class move in this way, except the camel. The normal camel, by that I mean the camel that has not been specially trained for riding purposes, does not move diagonally, but lifts its feet in the following rotation: near fore, near hind, off fore, off hind. It is this method of progression that sets up a swaying movement from side to side that proves very inconvenient - sometimes disastrously so - to the rider. Mention might also be made of the giraffe as an exception, but he is a very intermediate animal!
The track left by the horse at a walk differs naturally somewhat according to the individual. The hind hoof registers either just behind, or over, or just in front of the mark made by the fore hoof. In a heavy horse, such as a cart-horse, the hind hoof will show behind the fore hoof, whereas in a light riding-horse the hind hoof will be in front of the fore hoof. A great deal also depends upon the speed at which the animal is walking.
The trot is merely a hastened walk, and the gait is just the same but quicker. The feet touch the ground in the same rotation, but as two feet touch the ground almost at the same time only the noise of two footfalls will be heard. The track itself appears more in a straight line because the animal has more balance, in consequence of speed, and also tries to plant the feet more under the centre of the body to prevent any swaying motion from side to side that may be set up. The mark of the hind foot will almost invariably show in front of the mark of the fore foot, and the distance between paces will obviously be greater.
There are exceptions in the horse to this trotting gait. The trotting horse that is trained for racing moves both feet on the same side more or less together, but it is trained to do so by having a strap tied between the two which forces it to move the corresponding hind foot whenever it moves the fore foot. In India and Africa there are native ponies which are apparently born with a curious double shuffle sort of gait in addition to the ordinary trot. It may have been ingrained in them hereditarily after much practice. The gait is a very comfortable one indeed for riding.
The gallop is a series of leaps. The hind legs serve mainly to propel the animal forward and the fore legs to balance or brace the body. For this reason the hind legs are planted more or less side by side, while the fore legs are planted apart from, and one behind, each other. The resultant track is somewhat like a magnified rabbit's track, for, owing to the speed at which the animal is moving, the hind hoofs hit the ground well in front of the fore hoofs.
The canter of the horse is not a natural gait, and so we need not consider it in reference to the track characteristics of the class of proportionate animals.
There is only one kind of movement in the members of the second class, although, naturally, speed will differ, and so make some slight difference in the track. Animals whose hind legs are longer than their fore legs progress by a kind of leap-frog movement rather in the same way as a horse moves at a gallop. The hind feet come round the fore legs and are thrown ahead of the fore feet. In this class of animals the hind feet are longer than the fore feet and can be easily distinguished. In the three other classes the hind feet are smaller than the fore feet. These points have to be borne in mind if you hope to follow a trail.
The jump made by members of the third class (long bodies, short legs) is a curious loping, snake-like movement, and is the one usual gait. The movement is rather like that of a porpoise in the water - a series of curves. The two fore feet leave the ground, and come down together side by side, the animal's body doubles up like a drawn bow, and the hind feet follow, landing almost directly on the same spot, while the fore feet go off on the next bound, so that the trail shows apparently one pair of tracks side by side at regular intervals. Occasionally some of the animals in this class will make short bounds with all four feet at the same time. At a faster pace the hind feet may seemingly outstrip the fore feet and land in front of them.
Since the animals of the fourth class are exceedingly corpulent they seldom hurry. They usually walk, or rather waddle, turning their hind feet in to a marked degree and spreading all four feet out wide apart laterally. As a general rule the hind foot registers over the mark of the fore foot and across it, heels out, toes in. Occasionally, when alarmed, they will leap, but, because of their bulk, the distance between successive tracks is short.
It will be realized that these two classifications cannot be called exactly scientific; but they are classifications that have been adopted, and utilized, in all continents, so as, by a process of elimination, to narrow down the possibilities of the identity of any one track that is noticed. They are helpful, too, as throwing a light on the characteristics and habits of the animal, a very important point in animal spooling. But in order to be quite certain as to the identity of any particular animal's track a considerable amount of practice is necessary, as well as an intimate knowledge of the class of animal, and any characteristics of a special kind that his track may show.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.