Learning how to track animals on safari is so much fun. My youngest son recently learned how to calculate the height of an elephant based just on its footprint in the sand. He was taught how to discern a leopard paw print, from that of a lion, and to know which direction a hyena was walking in, a few hours before we happened upon the scene. He also learned how much fun it is to check out animal scat for clues on what, why when and how in the bush.
Over the years, I've discovered that a family safari is not complete without taking a close look at some animal dung. Attempting to take the "scat-action shot" is another great way to enjoy a safari drive with young children. We've studied white rhino dung and noticed the difference between that and black rhino dung. We've been overwhelmed with the odor of a gorgeous looking pride of lion and their cubs, their poop is not nearly as cute. And giggled while a hippo showered its dung a little too close for comfort.
On some safaris, you're more likely to encounter animal scat before the animal itself, here are a few fascinating facts to help you relate to the wild creatures around you:
What is Dung-showering? It's what hippos do to mark their territories and warn off predators or aggressors. Some females dung shower to show submission. Basically they shoot copious amounts of dung and urine out of their rear ends and then flap their tails to spray it around. A fully grown hippo dumps some 60 lbs (27kg's) of excrement into the river or lake where s/he lives every day. The dung shower is as impressive in volume as it is malodorous. Because of the huge amount a hippo consumes and therefore poops, it also plays a significant role in keeping plankton, worms (and therefore fish), alive and well fed.
Hyena dung is white (when dry) because of the large amounts of calcium it consumes when crunching up the bones of its scavenged kill. A team of researchers excavating a cave near Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered five human hairs at least 200,000 years old in fossilized hyena dung, thus exceeding the record for the oldest known hairs by more than 190,000 years.
Ancient Egyptians used crocodile dung as an early method of birth control. Medical texts written on papyrus dating back to 1850 BC apparently verify crocodile poop as a key ingredient to reducing a woman's fertility.
Elephant Number 2:
You can make paper out of elephant dung -- check out this online shop if you would like to buy some. Apparently it really doesn't smell. It's also useful for creating art; Turner Prize winning artist Chris Ofili used elephant dung in all his paintings (and won $30,000 for them).
Real essence of lion dung is used in this fabulous product called "silent roar" which apparently repels cats. Not quite sure how you would verify its authenticity but no doubt it has an unpleasant odor.
Rhino dung has been auctioned off on e-bay by an international conservation group working to save this rare animal from extinction. Four lots of poop were sold in 2007
under the banner "Buy Endangered Feces to Save an Endangered Species".
Giraffes expel pellet-like poo and since they fall from a great height, they scatter on impact. Apparently, they make excellent toys. Similar perhaps to Impala pellets, which I have personally placed in my mouth to see how far I could spit them .... safari guides enjoy this game ...