Ospery, the bird of the Selous Scouts.Selous Scouts "Pamwe Chete" title block.Ospery, the bird of the Selous Scouts.



































NOTE: This Tracking information is the basis of what the Rhodesian tracking program built off. This data was used and expanded from conflict to conflict; Kenya, Malaya and then for Rhodesia. This outline concentrates on the use of African native trackers, due to the fact it was originally written by British army personnel, were it was common practice to employ indigenous persons for various tasks; like tracking. The British indecently were quite aware of the importance of trackers in a counter-insurgency conflict but maintained no tracking unit per say at the time. The Rhodesians took the tracking concept to new heights; not only did they maintain dedicated tracking units (TCU / Selous Scouts / Greys Scouts), but the whole Rhodesian Security Forces had taught all personnel a basic level of tracking awareness. 



Introduction to Visual Tracking

     The Terrs will rarely stand and fight they make raids and return to their hideouts as quickly as possible. To make contact with them is difficult. One of the methods used to hunt down and kill the Terrs is by tracking. Tracking is used by Africans normally when hunting animals or finding strayed stock. Animals do not conceal their tracks and have set characteristics which, when known to the trackers, make animal hunting comparatively easy.

     Tracking Terrs is very much more difficult. Realizing that the Security Forces are using African trackers to hunt them down, the Terrorist gangs are using all sorts of methods to conceal their tracks. Following the comparatively ill-defined human fool prints, as compared with the well-defined hoof-marks made by game, is difficult enough without the Terrs concealing their tracks. Therefore first-class trackers must he used. Many Africans can track, but the first-class tracker is not found in the average African. He is born, and no amount of practice and experience will make the average tracker as good as the born tracker.

     The method of making contact with gangs by tracking is nevertheless very successful and every effort must be made to keep up the morale of the trackers and realize their importance in patrols. They are part of the team.

The Handling of Trackers


     The Africans is simple, not very intelligent, but very willing if treated in the right way. Do not regard him as a slave but as an equal. You will find that most Africans have an innate respect for the White Man. This respect is easily increased or destroyed, depending on the treatment given to them.

     The respect will be destroyed if familiarity is shown or they are allowed to take liberties. This does not mean that they should not be spoken to or offered cigarettes. They appreciate cheerfulness and the odd joke. They have a good sense of humor which, although not entirely similar to that of the White Man, is none the less present. They dislike being sworn at, even in fun, and cannot understand sarcasm.

     Small things, such as making them stand up when spoken to, are important. They should come under the direct control of patrol commander and other members of the patrol should understand this.

The African Mentality

     It must be understood that the African has a completely different view of life and code of morals from ours. He does not think of the future, which the White Man has difficulty in under­standing and finds irritating.


     A high standard of morale among trackers must be main­tained, and this will depend mainly on how the Europeans in the patrol behave. They like to air their troubles, and these must be listened to.


     Although their physical needs are a great deal less than ours, do not disregard the African’s comfort. There is a scale of clothing and rations for African trackers, and it must he ensured that they get it.

Tracking Patrols

     Use of Correct Trackers- Not all trackers are of the same tribe and location. Care should therefore be taken that the trackers in operational use by battalions are from the tribes most suited to the terrain in which the battalion is located. If the tracker is a low land dweller employ him in similar terrain same for high land dwellers, also try to maintain integrity of the trackers by keeping similar tribes together.

     Composition of Tracking Group in a Patrol- The ideal is a group of three trackers and one scout or bodyguard. Owing to the shortage of first-class trackers within the Command, more often only two trackers and one scout are used.

     Formation Using Three Trackers- A trackers leads the patrol on the tracks which he is following. Behind the leading tracker is his bodyguard or scout, following the bodyguard ate. The other two trackers, one watching for tracks breaking off to the right and the other watching left. Ibis formation is only used when time patrol is canalized in the forest, and is adapted to suit open country according to circumstances.

     Formation Using Two Trackers- The formation is identical, except that only one tracker follows the bodyguard and has to watch for tracks breaking right and left.

     The Bodyguard- The duty of the bodyguard is exactly the same as that of a leading scout in a normal patrol. The trackers all have their eyes to the ground and therefore cannot look out for ambushers, camps, or the enemy

     The Duty of the Trackers- The duty of the trackers is to track. They should not be made to carry heavy loads or become odd-job men. They should be trained in the use of firearms, silent signals, immediate action drills, and to pass all information to their patrol commander.

Action on Finding Tracks

     Upon encountering tracks it is essential that some small time be spent in studying them, as invaluable information can he obtained, such as when the gang passed the spot, the numbers, whether they were laden (i.e. food carriers or armed members), and direction. It is also important that time spot is fixed on the map.


       In tracking down Terrs, persistence, alertness, silence, and the ability to shoot straight and quickly are important. Be firm yet fair, and study your trackers for their individual peculiarities.


Trails and Tracks


     To move silently and quickly in most parts of the bush is impossible unless use is made of trails. There are a considerable number of paths in the bush, originally made by big game during their nightly or seasonal migrations. Since big game animals find difficultly in climbing or descending steep, slippery slopes it will be found that game trails are very easy going, the inclines being gentle.

     Both the Terrs and our own patrols use these trails when quick, silent movement is required. Always check for Terrorist tracks when using these trails and remember that it is on these trails that ambushes are easily laid, both by security forces and the Terrs, though the latter, to date, have not taken full advantage of the opportunity offered.

      Tracks on trails are inclined to be quickly obliterated by game and rain, as some trails are so wide that there is little overhead cover.

Types of Trails

       Ridge Crest Trails- Formed by game along main ridges to enable movement from one part of the country to another Usually well defined and useful for rapid movement in thick bush, but not used to a great extent by the terrs for fear of leaving tracks on the trails used frequently by security forces.

       Contour Trails- Found only in area of shallow valleys and generally join crests of ridges by following the contour round the head of the valley. Used by the terrs considerably, to enable them to have easy routes to their camps

       Spur Trails- These follow the small spurs often found projecting from main ridges into deep valleys. Often rather vague, but are useful for crossing heavy country across the grain. Again used considerably by the terrs.

Common Tracks

     Man- Barefoot prints are soft rounded impressions formed by the heel, ball of foot, or toes. Women’s tracks are generally smaller and have on the whole two characteristics. Firstly, they tend to be pigeon-toed and secondly, their toes are more splayed out than the males.

      Animals- Due to the fact that most animals have cloven hooves, the impressions formed on the ground have sharp, clear-cut edges.


     The following are signs the experienced tracker looks for when tracking spoor:

(a)    Crushed and bent grass and vegetation

(b)    Broken twigs and leaves

(c)    Overturned leaves

(d)    Mud displaced from streams

(e)    Cobwebs

(f)     The state of dew on a trail

(g)    Mud or scratches on stones or logs

(h)    Moss scraped from trees

     Running Men- Points to observe are skid marks, depth of impressions, running on balls of feet and toes. Splayed out toes and badly damaged vegetation with resultant lack of concealment of trail.

      Loaded Men- Short footsteps, deeper impressions than normal in soft ground and toes splayed out.

Judging Age of Tracks

(a)    Weather: The state of the weather- rain, wind, sunshine- should always be recorded in one’s mind as it is one of the most important points in deciding the age of a track.

(b)    Vegetation: The state and position of trodden vegetation; various grasses have different grades of resilience and only practice and experience can enable a tracker to use this factor for accurate ageing of a track.

(c)    Impressions in mud: Always note the state of dryness of a track in mud or soft ground. If the track is very fresh, water would have run back into the depression made by a foot. Later the water runs back and later still the mud which has been pushed up round the depression and the mud kicked forward by the foot leaving the ground begins to dry.

(d)   Obliteration by rain or dripping from mist: By remembering when it last rained, more accurate judgment of the age of tracks is easy. If the tracks are pockmarked, obviously they were made before the rain and if they are not pockmarked they were made after the rain. Similarly, by looking to see if the tracks have been pockmarked by mist dripping from brush, the age can be better judged.

(e)  Game tracks superimposed: Remember that most animals lie up during the day and move about at night. Therefore if human prints on main bush tracks have animal tracks superimposed, and these tracks show that the game have moved in both directions, the human prints are probably at least one night old. If the animal tracks show that game have moved only in one direction, then the human tracks were probably made during the night, after the game had moved down to salt or water but before the game moved back.

(f)  Cracks in bent grass or leaves: An indication of the age of a  track may be gained by the state of dryness of these cracks. When fresh they are green, but after a few days turn a brown colour. Again the amount of sun­shine and rain during the last few days should be taken into account.

(g)  Leaves covering tracks: In the bush leaves are always falling from the bushes. The number of leaves that fall depends on wind and rain. By looking at the number of leaves covering the tracks and taking into consideration the amount of wind and rain during the past few days, another indication as to the age of tracks is obtained. Remember the seasonal characteristics of your operational area; Kenya for example has no autumn; so the leaves fall from trees all the year round there.


     A tracker has many things to consider whilst tracking. He must possess certain qualities, such as extraordinary eyesight, memory, intelligence, fitness, and understanding of Nature. Although practice and experience will make the average man a tracker, he can never be as good as the born tracker, for the real tracker is born, not made. African trackers track best in the areas In which they were born, and when moved to new areas must be given time to become used to the climatic conditions and the difference in vegetation and soils. Patience, persistence and acute observation are the basis of good tracking.

Terrorist Signs and Fieldcraft


     The Terrs have their own methods of informing members of their gangs where they have gone, or where they have hidden their food, and they also have their own warning system. These can be spotted by an alert patrol. The examples of signs given below are old and were only effective in certain areas. Signs vary from area to area and from gang to gang. Patrols should attempt to recognize new signs and pass back all information regarding these signs. The interrogation of prisoners must include the finding out of signs. The examples noted are only given as a guide as to what to expect. All signs are as inconspicuous as possible in order to conceal them from the security forces.

     Direction Signs- Direction signs as below are usually found at track junctions

(a)    Bent bamboo; Bent down and pointing in the direction required. Inconspicuous as it is usually interpreted as having been done by big game.

(b)    Bamboo leaves crossed and pinned to the ground with a twig, the longest arm of the cross indicating direction.

(c) Bamboo bent across a path indicates either ambush or warning to Terrs that the path is known to security forces.

(d) The food cache sign- Three small holes arc dug at regular distances up the middle of time path. At right angles to one of these, a hole is dug on either side of the path. These are lined up with a conspicuous tree or bamboo in which there is a panga cut. By placing a panga in the cut and sighting along the blade the direction to a food cache is obtained.

(e) Abandoned hide- A tree near the abandoned hide is indicated by cutting off a large piece of bark. The lowest branch of the tree points in the direction of the new hide. The branch merely indicates the direction. The new hide will not be visible, but by following the indicated line, tracks leading to the new hide will be found. The new hide may be a considerable distance away.

Concealment of Tracks

(a)    Walking backwards, mainly in soft ground or dusty patches. Note that the mud flakes being kicked up are kicked up by the heel instead of the toe. The heel mark lends to be deeper than that of the ball of the foot and the feet are placed wider apart although the pace is shorter.  

(b)   Walking on the edges of or astride paths.

(c)    Stepping in one another’s tracks-used also to disguise numbers in a gang.  

(d)    Use of streams and stream beds.  

(e)    Splitting up into small groups or individuals over easy tracking ground or on nearing hideout.

(f)     Bent bamboo: Should it be necessary for a gang to cross a wide path, the last member pulls down a bamboo or bush with ample foliage to cover the tracks. This also is frequently interpreted as having been done by big game.

(g)    Walking along fallen trees, oven- rocky ground, or stepping from rock to rock.  

(h)    Stolen cattle: Dragging bush over trail; Splitting herds and mixing with herds of other

(i)      Other tricks:

 (i)        Tip-toeing;

(ii)                Rear man covering tracks with bamboo leaves; False tracks;

(iv)       Gang walking in each others footprints, rear man cutting off the feet of dead elephant or rhino and tying them to his feet and obliterating human foot­prints.

Concealment of Hideouts

     The main methods used are:

(a) Concealment of tracks leading to hideout.

(b) Use of many devious entrance tracks.

(c) Sighting hideout in most unlikely places. Usually close to a commanding position where the gang can lie-up during the daylight hours.

Types of Hideout

(a) Underground ground- soil thrown into the river and the entrance concealed. In the bush these may be small and accommodate small numbers, but in Reserves are normally for only one or two men.

(b)  Caves under waterfalls- all sizes used.

(c)  Hut hideouts in Reserve-holes dug under beds capable of holding up to five men, having small concealed entrances.

(d)  Trees- often two- or three-man hides in holes amongst the roots of large trees. The shells of burnt-out trees are sometimes used as sentry boxes or observation posts.

(e) Lie-ups where no form of construction is erected, the gang merely lying up under naturally thick cover.

(/) Armed members of some gangs live separately from the food carriers. In many gangs the women members are segregated, and in some cases the gang leader lives close by them.

Keeping Up to Date 

     Tracking humans who are always trying to conceal their tracks is difficult, even for an experienced African tracker, who is more used to tracking animals. Just as the method of breaking and entering used by a burglar will often give his identity away to the Police, so the methods by which a gang conceals its tracks, and the way it establishes its hideouts, will give away the gang. Therefore it is essential that all new methods of concealing tracks be brought to the notice of your tracker, and, conversely, if he finds new methods, the information should be passed back.


     When a patrol is sent out with trackers it is essential that the patrol commander himself has a fair knowledge of tracking. This knowledge may be more theoretical than practical but he should be able to recognize signs when pointed out to him by his trackers. As trackers will sometimes have different opinions as to what certain signs or tracks indicate, the patrol commander must have sufficient knowledge to make a final decision.

     In British units language difficulties between patrol commander and trackers can be most tiresome. The good patrol commander will learn enough of the native dialect to eliminate this diffi­culty. Just as the trackers must be patient when tracking so must the patrol commander be patient when dealing with his trackers. The basis of successful tracking patrols is the team spirit, which lies within all the members of the patrol.






THIS SITE LAST UPDATED: Sunday, September 16, 2007 06:43:38 PM

Copyright © 2000 - 2007 by T.A.L. DOZER. All rights reserved.