Michael's Dispatches

Wolfpack 104 –Jungle Man Art vs. GI Science


IMGL9482-1000Butterflies on suspected elephant dung: many signs are obvious.

10 December 2012

The British learned that employing local trackers can be disastrous.  Indigenous folks can be immensely talented at local tracking because they are tuned intimately to their biowebs.  Problems start from there.

“Jungle Man” might be able to trail a butterfly—especially so if he can sell it—but he cannot read a map.  He does not get lost because he knows his home range and how to navigate there.

IMGL9124-1000Hilltribe jungle boys in Thailand.

Biowebs and tracking can change dramatically from one terrain to another, in the space not measured in miles, but feet.  In Brunei, jungle gave way within just a few steps to desert-like terrain that resembled Afghanistan. When the trees were cut the soil washed away, leaving a Martian landscape similar to parts on the Big Island of Hawaii.

In fact, the Big Island has most of the ecosystems found worldwide, ranging from alpine tundra to forests, jungles, prairies, and desert-like areas, down to tropical beaches and coconuts.

Jungle Man could track around his village, but when loaded onto a helicopter and flown onto a cold, dry and treeless mountain only minutes away, he might fail.  On the Big Island, alpine tundra is a nine-minute Blackhawk flight to tropical beaches.  Similar dramatic changes are common globally.

The British learned that even superb local trackers cannot make up for absent military expertise.  They cannot be transported to work reliably in other conditions.

IMGL9623-1000Hilltribe village in northern Thailand. The villagers keep three elephants.

According to Dean Williams, a retired British Royal Marine and combat tracker instructor, “The key factor is the ability to make logical deductions and assumptions via an understanding of military tactics and SOP's…”  Local trackers typically cannot do this.

Numerous combat trackers read this draft.  Two cautioned that local trackers are at times hired to potent use.  One veteran officer mentioned the Koevoet unit in Namibia.

The book Shadows in the Sand reveals a series of combat tracking stories, as told by a native tracker enlisted in the Koevoet.

The local trackers were not just village boys plucked away from lives of finding wayward cattle.  They received combat training, and then piled tracking atop their new combat skills.

image007-1000Strapping the enemy to the mud guards. I highly recommend the book Shadows in the Sand

The Koevoet had a reputation for hard tracking, hard killing, and hard drinking, often returning to camp with mangled enemies strapped around the vehicles. They stacked the bodies high.  They also were paid for kills, a practice that some Americans might not support, and which was controversial locally.

image009-1000There were complaints about strapping the bodies to vehicles, but the insides of the vehicles were cramped, and nobody wanted gore on the floor. They began covering the bodies.

image011-1000The Koevoet faced threats that we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mines, roadside bombs, RPGs and small arms. Koevoet used armored vehicles and helicopters to track, push, and cut ahead of enemy.

image013-1000Many of those tracked down were expert trackers themselves, and would use anti-tracking techniques which often worked.

If our folks in Afghanistan could track like the Koevoet, the Taliban would be an endangered species.

Judging by descriptions in Shadows in the Sand, our men are far better fighters than the Koevoet.  But the Namibians were good fighters, courageous, and could track.  It matters less that you are a great fighter when the enemy can find you easier than you can find him.  This is part of combat.

Despite Koevoet unit and other successes, it remains inadvisable to hire trackers from villages thinking their skills are universally applicable.

The Rhodesians melded tracking more to our way of combat and were extremely successful.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sheph7 · 8 years ago
    My father, a WWII veteran and at the time myself going to Vietnam had the definition of war that has always stuck with me… “war is watching your best friends dying”
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 8 years ago
    your photography is excellent. Stellar.
    War has always seemed to me the willing to fight to the death without any rules. I think WW II was the ultimate of that, maybe the civil war too. I have a Brother in law who was in the Battle of the Bulge. I have tried to get him to talk about it, but he won't. He just changes the subject.

    I once read a poem on War. I don't remember the author, and if anyone else knows it, I would love to see it, but I have tried to re-create it here.


    wasted lives, wasted money
    wasted tools, wasted food,
    wasted animals, wasted children,
    wasted houses, wasted buildings,
    wasted ships, wasted planes,
    wasted cars, wasted trucks,
    wasted words, wasted loves,
    this is war!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carl · 8 years ago
    War is man hunting man.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim · 8 years ago
    Not sure if you're aware of it - but you might be interested in the "Hollywood" version of your tracking comments. There is a show called Mantracker that pits a local tracker with a "professional" tracker against 2 hunted human prey in a race to the "base". http://science.discovery.com/tv-shows/mantracker
  • This commment is unpublished.
    T M · 8 years ago
    Just appreciating mother nature is both art an science. Tracking is also both. You have to appreciate what you are seeing in order to concentrate and learn from it.

    This is how a child decides whether or not to become an artist (superficial observation of colors and textures) or a scientist (why does it look like or do that). Both are, in a sense, artists. Science to me is a more in depth observation of the art of nature.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sully · 8 years ago
    There's a section in the Art of War about the types of spies and their uses. Local trackers are mentioned as useful but dangerous to rely on for similar reasons. Over estimation of ability and other problems.

    Basically thousands of years ago armies had the same problems of today despite our technological advances.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Laird · 8 years ago
    War: Organized aggression applied towards a purpose or desired outcome.
    Which makes many activities we don't normally associate with 'war' to be very warlike indeed.

    There's a reason business executives read The Book of Five Rings and Sun Tzu - and it isn't just curiosity.

    In regards to tracking - This has been a most informative and intersting post. Real 'food for thought' stuff; thank you.

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