Animals don't cover their tracks

Pinal Central (Original) Posted March 14, 2018 by Mark Cowling

FLORENCE- Morning or late afternoon are the best times to find footprints left by wildlife; walk facing the sun for the best contrast, leader Janice Przybyl advised participants in a wildlife tracking workshop.

When you find a track, click a picture with your camera parallel to the ground. Otherwise you distort the appearance of the track and your ability to obtain an accurate measurement of it.

Wildlife tracks alone don’t tell us a lot about the effects of drought and loss of habitat in a region, Przybyl said. But when used in conjunction with other methods of data collection such as roadkill and remote cameras, tracking can help tell a story.

“The other part is fun,” and identifying who else is enjoying a particular natural area with us, Przybyl said.

Tracks left by coyotes, foxes, wolves and other canine species are symmetrical; the left side is a mirror image of the right side. The toes are long, and the outside toes are angled outward, something like angel wings. The middle toes of a canine appear aligned. Claw marks, when present, may be either blunt or triangular.

The foot pad is roughly triangular. Lines drawn along the pad will extend between the outer and inner toes to form a distinct “X.”

On the other hand, tracks left by bobcats, jaguars, ocelots and other types of cats are asymmetrical and show a leading toe. The toes appear round. The foot pad has two lobes at the top and three at the bottom. Straight lines drawn along the pad hit the inner toes. Claw marks are seldom present.

A wild animal’s tracks are usually clean and move in a straight line. Tracks that appear sloppier and meandering were most likely left by a domestic dog and often appear with nearby human footprints or hoof prints left by someone on horseback.

Bears and mountain lions, because they are heavier, will leave tracks with more compression that are more likely to shine, Przybyl told the workshop. Bear tracks show a big toe that is on the opposite side of where a human’s is.

Coati tracks are also five-toed, like little bear tracks, with long claws. The toes are straight across, unlike raccoon tracks, which are more circular.

Deer, sheep and javelina leave two-toed tracks. Deer tracks are almost heart-shaped. Elk tracks are longer than those of domestic cows, which appear round.

A retired scientist, Przybyl is a New Mexico resident and board chair of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project based in Flagstaff. As a Tucson resident, she developed the Sky Island Alliance, which worked with other agencies to arrive at a location for the wildlife overpass over State Route 77, or Oracle Road, in Oro Valley north of Tucson. The overpass provides safe crossing for local wildlife over the multilane highway.

The March 14 workshop near Florence was sponsored by Great Old Broads for Wilderness, advocates for public lands, and Lobos of the Southwest, advocates for Mexican gray wolf recovery.

For more information about tracking wildlife, visit Animals Don’t Cover Their Tracks on Facebook.