acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Monday, September 14, 2015

elephants and falling stars

I was looking for a book as evening fell. Rummaging in boxes. then I heard it. a half cry like someone trod on someone else’s foot in the race to the waterhole. In the soft grey light, elephant shapes hurried in to the waterhole. The Breeding herd moves like one giant beast with many legs; bulls following spread out like satellites around the cows and calves. I hear mud squelching, branches cracking as the giant mammalian multi beast ploughs into the reed bed. There are rumbles, the type that reverberate against my sternum, my solar plexus, and deep sonorous ones that run along the ground and up through my feet. The excited crashing, rumbling, and leathery flapping noises subside. I worry that there is enough water here for all those thirsty elephants. A bull moves across the area infront of my house and begins to tug on a palm tree that grows outside my bedroom window. It is dark now but he is darker. I have tied cow bells to the small baobab trees that are growing here, to protect them from hungry elephants. This elephant moves between all the small trees without making a sound. He comes close to me as i stand on the stoep. The breeze is blowing straight onto him so there is no point in hiding. I start talking to him. He toys with a high branch and stays a while before sucking the tiniest bit of water out of the bird bath. Elephants are everywhere, crunching munching and pulling on trees. The stars have come out and one falls in a golden line.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November Newborns

The monkeys were absent for a few mysterious days.  We missed them.  The first impala lamb was spotted gazing around in wonderment, and the cuckoos arrived.  Then the monkeys returned, and all was clear. There were new arrivals - very new. The other monkeys were still being introduced.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who Cares?

Who cares? well some people do apparently.

 Backed up against a quartzite cliff alongside the Olifants River in Balule Nature Reserve, is an extraordinary project called CARE. It is a baboon sanctuary for orphaned and otherwise unwanted baboons.  Baboons are problem children, especially when habituated or hand reared.  They can be aggressive and threatening in a wild situation, and they can definitely differentiate between human females and human males - they know which to confront if necessary.

For all the bad press baboons attract; we need them in the wild.  They forage and browse symbiotically with other species, who rely on the vigilance of the baboons to keep watch and  warn them of predators or approaching dangers. Thus they keep the other species more calm when risks are few.

Baboons can tell when you are looking at them, even from behind their backs, through a window far away!

We love to watch baboons interacting in a relaxed troop.  The antics of the young are hilarious and entertaining as they play-learn and explore their world. The groups of adult females, and dominant males keeping the hierarchy intact allow us to consider our own primate socialising from a safely removed distance.

Well, for now, I have no authority to talk  authoritatively about CARE. Hopefully, one of these days i will go and walk around with the volunteers and project managers, and discuss their hopes dreams and logistical issues.  But I did sneak a peek in there this week, on a rainy day with some pals who know the right people.  I have to say i found it somewhat disturbing - in the way that baboons watching us drive by from fenced enclosures made me cast them in an all too human light.  Wild baboons are omnipresent - even trying to enter the cages.  They communicate and vocalise with the baboon inmates which apparently is a good thing.

Baboons are much maligned because in many ways they compete with us for habitat, territory and food.  When pushed to the fringe they can become destructive to human property. There is a dichotomy though because as they are feared and hunted by people, they are also much loved, and an essential piece of the environmental well being.

That sneak peek at the CARE project has been tugging at my thoughts.  It was started by a Rita Miljo, who pioneered the successful release of baboon troops into new wild areas.  Sadly she died in a fire at her home, at the age of 81,  earlier this year.  But I feel that the people and volunteers she has left in charge of her work, still deserve to be recognised and supported. They  campaign for, and nurture, our wild things in remote and unsung corners of the continent, asking for so little and yet doing so much.

So, given the unauthorised nature of this posting, I invite you to visit their website and see for yourself. I will paste the links below.  In a world where everything bright and beautiful is under threat, I applaud and thank those who dedicate their lives to the preservation and making of forward plans for beleagured and politically incorrect creatures. 

If you would like me to find out more, or ask any specific questions when I do get to return there, please let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

September - Late Edition

September - a month between moons. If it was March we could have called it Many Weathers. But here in the southern hemisphere we watched September behave with adolescent confusion as winter turn to spring.

There was heat, and then rain, followed by wind, and clouds, and finally the haze of early summer.  Trees sprang flowers from dessicated branches filling the air with scent.

The monkeys left the roof to investigate and feast on the tiny pompom plumes of the acacia trees.  There were giraffe about the place doing the same thing.  Its strange how its easier to see a giraffe thats far away than one thats just about to step on your feet. 

Our month was one of travel. Meetings here and there, and things to be done in far flung places. We drove and drove from south east to north west.  Like a pendulum that has reached its furthers extension, we were there a few hours before we turned and headed back again.We diced with twilight donkeys, and lumbering cattle herds on their way home to the kraals. We dodged potholes - some of which are made worse by donkeys and goats that eat the calcrete beneath the tar. Alongside the road one of Africa's greatest rivers ran like a wise and patient elder spreading life giving tendrils to the kalahari sands.

There is upheaval everywhere - riots and strikes, and authority figures being challenged; systems threatening to crumble. Everywhere we look there are crimes against the planet. Outrage simmers below the surface breaking through in geysers of fury. These are times of change. We have to care.

Here on this continent, our wild things are under seige. The ancient remnants of jurassica are facing wholesale slaughter. If its not contained soon, very soon, our biodiversity will be safe in story books only. From tortoises, and crickets, through splendid birds, marine life and plants all the way to super predators, elephants and rhinos. Its happening right now. Here, and all about.  

To all those working tirelessly and at great personal risk to preserve our wild things - THANK YOU

It is incredible to think that those giant planetary forces that swirl about beyond the reaches of our cosy blue dome of sky, and beyond our imaginations, can have such an effect on us all.  Our comfort zone is a tiny bubble of blue in an infinity of darkness and dust. Frankly, moving to Mars does not appeal to me at all. We could spend some of the space exploration budgets on taking care of home.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

august winds

August - the season of winds. Winds of change blow through our world heralding a change of seasons.  First the winds are icy cold telling us of snow on a mountain top somewhere.  Then the winds are warm, gusty, like the first days of summer. As if the gods of wind are trying on shoes, they go back to the icy winds again. They try those on for a day or two, then decide no - those are so last season. Lets try summer. Oh the agonies of indecision.

In the meantime. the grasses are drying, and waterholes recede revealing cracked crevices of thick glutinous mud. As the bones of the earth are laid bare by winds, so the bones of the animals start to show beneath dusty hides.  We are not meant to see the rib cages of elephants - but there they are, showing a line of shadow ridges as the herd pauses to soak up the wintery sun.

The elephants are passive, intent on eating yellow grass - a bulk diet of roughage. They conserve their energy and stay focussed on their immediate needs. There should be a young calf by every female elephants side, instead we are seeing one young calf per breeding herd.  These elephants are struggling - traveling many miles for food and water. Predators are taking their toll. The day seems benign - sunny and bright - yet we are looking at creatures at their limit on the cusp of the season.

At the elephant beach at midday, we watch the big bull elephants arrive. Sonic rumbles of greetings reverberate through our own skin and bone. Its the deepest sound.  More elephants morph out of the grey scrub bushes around the lagoon. The water reflects a bright hard tanzanite blue. The elephants walk into the water no deeper than their ankles. They are careful not to disturb the shallows, reaching further in with long extended trunks.

The air is icy cold and elephants stand like statues in a sculpture garden, showing their broadsides to the sun - soaking up as much warmth as they can before the afternoon begins to cool.  There is no splashing about on such a day. Even the tiny calves content with playing in mud and dust. No-one wants to be caught soaking wet without a towel as night falls.

Elephants stand all around our view, reflecting in water, morphing into the tree line,
conserving energy, maximising heat, rehydrating, living with intent.  Before the shadows lengthen, there is a sign that we humans cannot hear, and the herds begin a slow move back into the treeline. Everyone heeds the sign. In minutes the herds are gone from sight. Silently they are moving into the forest. The beach is deserted again, with only the carpet of footprints and droppings steaming in the afternoon view.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

recent monkey scenarios

now just follow me - I will show you

As mentioned before, the monkeys from the roof are fast becoming kitchen monkeys. Our recent show of force has apparently had no effect at all. Yesterday, I was watching something on the TV and looked up to see four or five monkeys sitting on the table having cased the empty kitchen. They were so quiet.  I jumped up and said something like "oh no you guys. WhaddoyouthinkyouRdoing? out out!"

not itchy feet

They left softly and empty handed.  All but one - the big male with the blue dangly bits. He decided to linger a little longer and ducked into the studio to hide behind the sofa. Hoo boy. Fortunately I have become more vigilant about putting food away and out of sight so there was no contraband in sight.  Getting him out of the studio entailed (no pun intended) opening the front doors wide, then stepping back into the kitchen and around outside the windows, so that he could leave with the least amount of damage to property, and the most amount of dignity for him.


They have discovered that they can enter the ceiling via the laundry room. This is proving to be a great hiding place for raids. However there is a high risk of getting trapped in the house when all the doors are closed.

through the window

The first time someone was caught like this, the house was dead quiet after a monkey raid.  We closed all the doors but the monkeys kept hanging around outside staring in the windows.    Sometime later i found some nasty brown monkey 'drops' on the kitchen floor, and by the bathroom. Ahha! hide and seek began. The outside monkeys watched me accusingly through the glass as if to say "what have you done with him?" Eventually he was located peering down from the ceiling, and an exit route was arranged for him to leave quietly.  The troop left as soon as he was out.

those bumps in their cheeks are food stashes
or butter that will not melt in there

Next time, it was that female monkey that was caught inside. She is more forward and aggressive. There were no monkey faces watching anxiously through the windows for her. This time the troop left without her. When she finally took the exit route, she was all alone in the world.  I thought this might teach her something, but apparently not.

We do love them - its just a matter of boundaries and who cleans up.  Maybe they got butter on their paws sometime?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

July chat

There has been blogger interuptus for far too long, and its high time for a chat. Its not that the monkeys have been silent around here - or even absent. Quite the opposite in fact. Yesterday the big male monkey ( with the splendid blue dangly bits that proclaim his status) sneaked into the kitchen around lunch time and tried to cram the rest of the roast chicken into this mouth.  The sound of glass smashing as the pyrex bowl took a hit, brought us running into the kitchen.  The chicken fell to the ground and the monkey fled to the lounge to bounce off the walls a bit before making it to the door - not before his backside was peppered with a bit of snakeshot though. Just enough to give him a clear message. 

The monkeys have been very invasive lately, and we need to reassert our territorial rights to the kitchen. They have learnt to stay calm when in the house, and if we approach, just to hide under a table, or under a bed, or in the ceiling, while we pass by - resuming the raiding tactic behind our backs. There has been hide and seek in process. But its those tell tale calling cards that always give the game away. 

Winter is here with its delicious coolness and wide blue skies. The grasses are yellow and whispy and the warthogs are all around the house. We are in safari season which means travelling long distances on rickety roads, billowing dust, bright sunlight, and sparkling waters. It means elephants, and lions, and all the myriad creatures; dark velvet night skies and the whiff of wild sage brush.

well now here is a strange and mystifying thing.  We keep finding baby frogs in the toilet cistern. How do they get there? the inlet pipe is tiny.  Perhaps they come in as eggs and grow there, but what do they feed on. How are they alive in there, in that chamber of sensory deprivation?

Yesterday we fished one out again. He was small and brown and shiny, with a mottled pattern.  He sat quietly in the hand, and 'walked' rather than hopped.  He seemed slow, then we realised that all he had known before was the dark interior of the cistern.  Suddenly he was riding a human hand into a brightly lit and brightly painted kitchen filled with strange smells, and stranger giants.

We took him out to the waterhole, and rather reluctantly he fell off the hand and into the water.  He bobbed at the edge of the pool, watching us. Funny, it was as if he said 'take me back inside!'  but we must have been imagining it. Later we found an identical frog in the same bathroom, inside the bucket.  It was a bit confusing - surely it couldnt be the same one?? but we took him out to the waterhole even so.

Twenty years ago, when speaking to a prominent kenyan naturalist, he said that trying to keep rhino's alive on this continent was like 'trying to keep ice cubes in the lake'. We were saddened by his defeatist attitude but was he defeatist or realist? It can seem that if you are in any way involved in trying to protect and conserve our planets precious natural resources you are destined for days of heartache and hopelessness .

In the intervening years so many dedicated people have focussed their life's efforts on trying to preserve rhinos and other endangered species. And there are wonderful success stories that we rarely hear about, or give any major credence to. Valiant rangers have given their lives to poachers bullets in the field, in remote and little known wildlife areas.

Responsible fundraising efforts go to equipping these rangers with hi-tech communications and basic uniforms and even salaries. They are on the front line of a nasty war, that is getting nastier.  The illegal trade in wildlife products (rhino horn, ivory, tiger bone etc) is today included in the same cartels as drug trade and human trafficking.

The more attention, funds and manpower we throw at stopping these heinous crimes, the more they seem to flourish. Tigers are still critically endangered; rhinos are on the brink of extinction AGAIN; elephants are being slaughtered in their thousands. We know where the market is for all these products, and yet we cannot seem to address it directly.  We have increased security at seaports and airports, and yet still, massive shipments are uncovered, suggesting an unknown quantity that slips through undetected to supply an ever growing demand.

They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Perhaps in these days of regime change, climate change and enhanced global communication networks; there will be a respite for Africa's beleaguered creatures - great and small.  We need to think outside the box - and fast.