You can make an exact copy of animal footprints in rest camps or in parks and reserves where you are allowed to walk about freely. What a lovely keepsake from your holiday! By Gareth Coombs
Animal tracks are a never-ending source of fascination, especially when they are the only obvious signs of wildlife in the area. Making a cast of animal tracks with plaster of Paris is a rewarding activity. It is relatively inexpensive to do, but allows you to make a highly detailed and accurate copy of the animal’s footprint.
It is a wonderful project to tackle with kids and a fun object to display in their rooms. The method works equally well for nearly all game species, whether they have soft paws or hooves. Even the tracks of larger birds, such as ducks, geese, spurfowl and francolin, can be cast.
Plaster of Paris is easy to work with and you can buy a small quantity; 500g packets are readily available from pharmacies. The larger the footprint, the more you will need, but a single 500g packet is enough to cast several antelope tracks such as those of duiker, bushbuck or impala.
The first thing you need to do is to scout around game trails, waterholes and feeding places to fi nd suitable hoof and paw-prints. You are looking for ones that are clearly imprinted and deep enough to form a mould to cast. This is where the surface becomes particularly important: softer surfaces such as sand, clay and mud usually keep the shape and depth of the footprint well. Coarse and hard surfaces such as hard, stony soils and gravel beds generally don’t produce deep or highly accurate footprints. It’s best to look out for animal tracks after the rains as the soft soil means tracks will be deep.
How to cast tracks
- Prepare the plaster of Paris by mixing the powder with water. You want an almost soupy consistency.
- Build a barrier around the track so the mixture will fi ll it. You can easily make one by cutting a large plastic bottle to create tall plastic rings. Place the ring around the track and press it into the soil.
- Slowly pour the plaster of Paris mixture into the mould. Be careful to disturb the soil as little as possible. Make sure that the stream of liquid does not hit the sharp edges of the track directly.
- Leave the mix for at least three to four hours to set. It’s best to leave it for at least 24 hours. Carefully remove the mould from the soil. Insert a small shovel under the track and use it to lift both the soil and the mould.
- If the mould has been left to set overnight, you can clean it, otherwise set it aside for another few hours. Use a stiff brush to give it a general clean, following up with a fi ner, softer brush for more delicate parts such as the tips of the hooves and claws.
- Clean up afterwards: take the plastic bottle ring and everything else with you, and leave only your own footprints.
Tip: You can practise at home on your dog’s footprint.