The Lost Art of Reading Pugmarks

July 18, 2012

A ‘Pugmark’ literally means the mark left by the ‘pug’ (Hindi for ‘foot’) of the wild animal. The trackers ‘read’ the pugmark to gather information about the species, sex, age and size of the animal as also the direction and speed of movement.

In the days of the British Raj, the tribal trackers (particularly the Bheels) would lead the ‘Shikaris’ on the game trail skilfully reading the tracks and signs as they relentlessly pursued the prey. The end of the era of game hunters led to end of patronage for this art and the disappearance of the creed of animal trackers. The wildlife departments are, however, trying to revive the art and rely on the study of pugmarks and other signs to cull out information about the abundance of different species of animals, especially the large carnivores.

The large carnivores that are traditionally tracked with the help of pugmarks are divided into two broad categories:

  1. The ‘Canids’ or the members of the ‘Dog family’ that typically move and hunt in packs often walking long distances in a file.
  2. The ‘Felids’ or the members of the ‘Cat family’ that lead a solitary existence, relying on stealth for hunting down prey. They are good climbers and some like the leopards carry their hunt to a tree for avoiding poaching by other carnivores.

The large carnivores typically leave a four-toed pugmark with a heel pad.

In case of the canids, the claw marks are generally visible in front of the toe pads, the toes are larger compared to the heel pad (to help run down the prey) and the distance of the two middle toes from the top of the heel pad is greater (hyaenas being an exception in this regard). The pugmark of a hyaena is clumped with little space between the pads.

In case of felids, the claws or nails are rarely visible, the soft heel pad is relatively larger (to facilitate stealth) and the middle toes are placed closer to the pad. Furthermore, in canids, the forward most points of the two middle toes are aligned (occur side by side). For felids, the middle toes are at different levels, especially for the hind paws.

Differences in pugmarks of Canids and Felids

 

The hind paws are generally smaller than the front paws in all carnivores.

In addition to identifying the species trackers also make out the sex of the animal from the pugmark. Thus the pugmark of the hind paw of a male tiger is more square as compared to the female’s elongated, rectangular and smaller hind pugmark. There is no difference, however, in their front pugmarks.

The pugmark length of an adult leopard is 7- 9.5 cm, the same as a tiger cub but the leopard has a more compact pugmark with smaller toes and a longer stride. Adult tigers have pugmarks with length 9-17 cm.

Tiger Pugmarks (Felid)

Tiger pugmarks, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Tiger pugmarks, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug mark of a tigress, Moriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug mark of a tigress, Boriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug marks of tiger cub, Moriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Pug marks of tiger cub, Boriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Leopard Pugmarks (Felid)

Leopard pugmark, Laldhang forest range, Lansdowne Forest Division

Leopard pugmark, Laldhang forest range, Lansdowne Forest Division

 

Hyaena Pugmarks (Canid)

Hyena pugmark, Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

Hyena pugmark, Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

Wolf Pugmarks (Canid)

Tracks of some other wild animals:

Close-up of Sloth Bear's foot

Close-up of Sloth Bear’s foot

Sloth Bear's Claws

Sloth Bear’s Claws

Black Bear tracks, Moriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Black Bear tracks, Boriya sot, Chila forest range, Rajaji National Park

Wild boar hoof mark

Monkey’s paw mark

Goral’s hoof mark

Goral's hoof

Goral’s hoof- the separated claws

Dog's pug mark, Mandana

Dog’s typical pug mark with prominent claw marks with the toes, Mandana

References:

  1. Reading Pugmarks- A pocket book for forest guards; Ranjit Talwar & Amir Usmani (WWF -Tiger & Wildlife Programme 2005)
  2. Guide for distinguishing leopard signs from those of other co-existing large carnivores for Asia Minor and the Caucasus; Erwin van Maanen (Anatolian Leopard Foundation 2008)

Filed in: Wildlife

About the Author ()

An environmental enthusiast who loves tramping through the hills in search of the picturesque.

Comments (6)

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  1. sarath s nair says:

    wonderful….

  2. Sudhakaran pillai says:

    It is heard that the pug marks of an adult leopard and a sub adult tiger may be almost similar in size. Then is there any method to identify the species.OR is there any distinctive difference between the pug marks of a tiger and a leopard. Please help!…Pillai

    • Sam Enoch says:

      Hi Sudhakaran,

      The size of the pugmark of a tiger cub and an adult leopard are similar. To know the difference means to study the context. Follow the trail and look for more marks. A tiger cub pug will usually accompany an adult female..A leopard pug is typically solitary so youll find only one set. Another way to cross check is to speak to local herdsman/shepherds they will know what wildlife is there around and you can learn loads from then.

      Happy Tracking!
      Sam
      (ex-Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society)

  3. Afsha Abdulla says:

    Amazing information!

    • saurabh says:

      is it necessary that at every kill site, we will get the pug marks of predator. Or if a man alleged that his domestic livestock was killed by wild animal and the body of livestock recovered from near the site. Then how can we confirm that the loss was caused by the predator?
      pls clear

  4. suresh Thapa says:

    Hello sir, I’m a wildlife student so I am going to do my thesis in wild dog so, plz provide me information about how to identify the pug mark of Asian wild dog in Jungle which will guide me in field..

    Thank you..!!!!

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