The objective of this activity is to use tracks to identify animals.
Because many species of animals are rare or elusive, sometimes the only way scientists know certain creatures live in specific regions is through tracking. Although it would be nice to get to see every animal living in the Pantanal, a lot of the species there are scared of humans and stay hidden until they no longer feel threatened. If people only relied upon sight to identify creatures, they would end up missing hundreds of species living in an area!
This is where tracking can be useful. Scientists search for animal tracks and then record them either by tracing or building plaster casts. They can later use this information to identify creatures and estimate populations.
- Drag clear a sandy trail or dirt road in a wooded area of your community you suspect gets a lot of wildlife activity. You can do this by getting a small board and running it across the area you are using until it is completely smooth. Muddy, wet areas and sandy areas work well.
- Check daily to see if you get any animal tracks. It's best to check early in the morning so there is less chance the tracks will get disturbed.
- Once you find tracks brush away any loose stones, twigs or dirt.
- Pour plaster into the track. To make this less messy it is often a good idea to form a dam around the track with cardboard or plastic strips – this keeps the plaster from going all over the place.
- Let it set enough to move. This normally takes 30 minutes but it depends on what type of plaster you use. Carefully remove the cast, and let it harden.
- Use an animal tracks guide to identify what animals live around your neighborhood! This should be available in your local library.
You can practice making casts with a sandbox and a pet cat or dog, or your own footprint!
Ready-made casting plaster can be purchased online. If you want to make your own plaster simply mix any amount of water with twice as much plaster of paris. Be sure to add the plaster to the water, not the other way around! You can also make air-drying clay by mixing 3 cups flour, 1 cup salt, ½ cup white glue, and 1 cup water. This clay-like mixture can be molded into the track and then needs to dry overnight.
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