Book Review: Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign. By Paul Rezendes. Camden House Publishing Inc. 1992. pp. 9-320 with Index.
From time to time you come across a book that truly impresses you as being a top notch text. This work by Paul Rezendes is one of those books. I can understand if you are skeptical of such high praise. After all there are a number of fine tracking books already on the market. However, I believe that this text stands above the rest for the following reasons.
First, Mr. Rezendes educates the reader to look beyond a single track. He is correctly critical of our tendency to identify an isolated track rather than to see the track in a larger context of the animal’s activity. In fact, he contends that identifying an individual track can in certain conditions be misleading. He believes that trail patterns are much more conclusive and accurate in identifying animal species. So not only does Rezendes give excellent illustrations of individual tracks, he also provides copious information about trail patterns. In keeping with a holistic approach to species identification, the text also includes information about the animal’s behavior and sign.
Another reason why this text rises above the rest lies in the information provided by the author. Mr. Rezendes covers a total of 52 major North American species with the insight of one who has done his time in the woods. For example, I was deeply impressed with the way he suggested how to distinguish between the tracks of a Grizzly and Black Bear by measuring gaits and the relative distances between the pad and claw (p.243). I think animal damage controllers will be especially interested in the way that he discusses scat identification. While noting that scat identification can be very difficult, the detailed clues he offered will help increase an animal damage controllers identification rate.
My final reason for believing that this is an excellent text, lies in the manner the book has been compiled. It is no surprise that Mr. Rezendes has organized the text around the scientific classifications such as Rodentia etc. But what is so remarkable is the spectacular color photographs of tracks, scat, dens, middens etc. Having taken photographs to illustrate my articles, I can only say that these photos must be the culmination of years of waiting and work. Nice wide margins also allow the reader plenty of room for personal observations. This book would make an excellent handbook for field use if it wasn’t for its bulky 10×7 inch page size. But in my opinion, bring it anyway.
Despite my glowing recommendation, I do have a problem with Mr. Rezendes’ brief comments on ecological philosophy found in his introduction. In short, he tends to agree that the ecological problems in the New World stem from a European theology’s understanding (translate Christian understanding) of mankind’s relationship to Nature (p. 16-17). Although I have criticized animal researches for writing about too much philosophy and not enough on research in a previous edition of the Probe, I think that Mr. Rezendes’ perspective needs to be challenged.
While Christianity teaches that God has given humanity dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28; Psa 8), it also teaches that man has been given responsibility to tend and to keep the world (Gen 2:15). It even teaches that the world groans because of it being under the curse because of Adam and Eve’s bringing sin into the world (Gen 3:17f;Rom 8:22). So in a real sense the problem with the world is because of mankind, but mankind is not the problem in the way that many environmentalists would like to believe. In Christian theology, humanity has been given dominion over the world, not to destroy it, but to manage it for the world’s real owner, God himself. We are to be stewards. Regrettably, our rebellion against God results in our being selfish, greedy, prideful which has resulted in the inappropriate exploitation of the planet.
Unknown to many, I would also like to point out that non-Christian religions have also exploited the planet. Dr. Richard T. Wright in his article “Responsibility for the Ecological Crisis (BioScience vol 20: 15 pp. 851-3) writes that ecological problems existed during the times when Taoism and Buddhism prevailed over mainland China. Obviously, the Europeans and their view of God haven’t cornered the market on ecological destruction. Dr. Wright contends correctly, that just because Christianity fathered Science doesn’t mean that Christianity was able to control what this new child was going to do. I think one should also be made aware that simply bowing to nature would be unacceptable for many people. After all, how many people think that the polio virus has as much right to exist as a healthy active child? In Christian theology, the polio vaccine is just one example of taking appropriate dominion over Nature.
In regards to Rezendes’ belief that the Indians lived in harmony with the earth, I think that claim is questionable. I remember hearing that the Mayan civilization ended because of ecological catastrophe due to their farming practices. I think that other native Americans were able to live in so called harmony with the land because their populations remained small. Thus if they over hunted a piece of land, they could simply move on to an uninhabited portion. I don’t think that harmony with nature has been demonstrated unless one can have harmony with nature while still reducing the infant and adult morbidity and mortality rate.
So in conclusion, buy this book for its excellent information on tracking not for its environmental philosophy. You can order a copy by contacting your local book store. When I called one, I was quoted a price of 29.95 for the hard cover and 20.00 for the soft. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed by this marvelous text.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a certified wildlife control operator who helps individuals, businesses, and agencies resolve wildlife damage issues through training, writing, expert witness, and research. His latest book is the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook, 3rd edition. He can be contacted at stephenvantassel at Hotmail dot com.
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