Reporter’s Diary: How to track wild animals in Kenya’s Maasai Mara

Many visitors come to Kenya’s world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve with ambitious goals of catching up-close views of the iconic animals that call the area home. And in many ways, the Mara’s wildlife is hard to miss, with teeming herds of herbivores like wildebeest and antelope crowding the plains in just about any place one looks. 

But many of the animals who live here can prove to be a more elusive bunch, like the nocturnal leopard who mostly hunts at night, the rare and endangered rhinos whose scarcity makes them all the harder to find, or the stealthy lurkers whose highly-evolved camouflage can make them all but dissolve into the grassy terrain. 

On our recent field assignment to the Maasai Mara, our news team decided to seek out some advice from an experienced local wildlife guide on the best way to track down animals. What we learned was fascinating. 

For one thing, we found that tracking animals by their footprints is not as practical in the dry season as it is in the wet season. A paw print in mud leaves a lasting impression, while the same tracks in dusty terrain may simply blow away in the wind.

The sense of smell is also important. Elephants for instance are known to break open acacia trees, producing a tell-tale fragrance that can quickly waft across the landscape. Following your nose is one way to lead you the herd. 

Finally, there’s sometimes the need to get hands on. Animals from different species and of different sizes leave all different kinds of droppings in their habitats and their waste can tell a story of which herds have passed through where. Just remember to wash your hands after examining the evidence!