acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

water for elephants

taking the waters
selinda spillway

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

rhino wars

Winter has arrived today with a cheeky wind that makes the tin sheets on the roof grate together in a fingernails on blackboards kind of way.  The monkeys were here early testing the metal - they love to thunder up and down on the wriggly tin, rolling and tumbling and falling from the overhanging trees.  It could be fun if we could join them, but its a better way to wake up than some urban alarm clock.

We are in the midst of a rhino war.   These giant gentle creatures are being mown down all around us for the sake of the horns that grow on their noses. What bad luck to have such a thing. They are our living unicorns - whats left of them.  

We are trying everything, but as long as the buyers in China are still able to pay, our rhinos only have the chances we can make for them. Very sadly, as our rhinos are killed, and numbers decrease, the horns on their noses increase in value which makes extinction a very real possibility in our lifetimes.

The other night we were out following a lion down the road. We smelt a funny smell but as the lion had walked right past we didnt think it could be a dead thing. The next day we went back to look. There was a blood spoor. Splashes of blood connected by dribbles of dark red spots.  Then we saw a rhino track smudged into the blood here and there.  We called in the anti poaching team and waited for them, not wanting to disturb any tracks and clues that might be about.

Finally, our worst fears are confirmed. A big bull rhino carcass lay in a clearing - his horn roughly hacked off.  There is little dignity in death. The smell of the decaying process is overwhelming. I wanted to go and lay flowers on the body - like the Indians do when elephants are hit by trains. But we cannot interfere with the crime scene. I think I have been in mourning the past week for the senseless avaricious nature of this death and the suffering and trauma that preceeded it. 

Oh, I wasnt going to talk about the rhino issue - but now I have.

(Rhino horn is made of compressed hair like structures containing keratin and protein. There is a dense inner core of calcium and melanin similar to horses hooves or birds beaks. Mineral content varies according to range and diet.  Scientific research has proved that rhino horn has no medicinal properties)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

happy mothers day

Betty Jeanne Thraves  1922-1982
happy mothers day

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

the good that elephants do

Given that we have reduced elephant habitat to tracts of land that cannot be used for agriculture - either arable or livestock; generally speaking of course. Most of the game reserves where elephants are allowed to live today are in semi desert terrain and often on international borders;  Given the choice, elephants prefer to eat grass, but in these areas, grass is often a very seasonal commodity, so for the rest of the year they make do with the rough bark of hardwood trees.  This often makes them unpopular with people who love trees - but elephants need to eat something after all.

And woebetide the elephant if he happens to stray out of his designated area in search of something more palatable to eat, or cleaner fresher water.  He instantly becomes labelled a 'rogue' elephant; or a 'rampaging' elephant - none of which he truly understands, but makes his reception very hostile and is usually life threatening.His life could depend on semantics in this way.

However, from a non scientific standpoint and in defense of elephants, what some see as destruction, is often a very vital contribution to the health of their environment.  First of all they have a very vast digestion, and their droppings are muffin shaped balls of instant manure.  The seeds they eat receive the required heat treatment in their journey through the elephants digestive system, to enable them to germinate successfully on return to the ground.

Elephants pull down branches of leaves from tall trees, in order to browse the furthest leaves.  This enables smaller browse dependent species to access food sources even during the driest months.

Young elephants strip the bark from trees, often ring barking them, during seasons when the sap is rising. This could be seen as a bad thing, as the tree usually dies.  But it creates clearings in a forest, and prevents the forest from becoming too dense. it also creates habitats for birds and insects, and small tree dwelling animals. Not to mention firewood for human campfires.

Big bull elephants push down trees. Sometimes this is interpreted as a show of strength, or a feeding requirement; but it also has the benefits of making fresh leaves available to smaller browse dependent animals; it creates habitat for ground birds and small predators, and often assists with preventing soil erosion.  Have you noticed how often the tree happens to fall across a bush road?

Elephants make wide clear paths that meander through their range, linking waterholes. If you are lost and thirsty, follow an elephant path to water - but keep your eyes and ears open!

A herd of elephants make less noise travelling through a forest, than one or two people.

At a river crossing, we once saw fish using the underwater elephant tracks as nesting sites. Each round indentation had a resident parent fish guarding their eggs.

I am sure there are a million more ways that elephants contribute to environmental health within their range states, but these are the first few that spring to mind. I also know it is extremely good for our heart and soul to spend time with elephants when they are relaxed and feeding or travelling on long ancient paths.   

Of all footprints
That of the elephant is supreme.
Of all mindfulness meditations
That on death is supreme.
         — The Buddha

Sunday, April 22, 2012

out of the blue

After my brief preoccupation with the colour red, and all things bright and beautiful, I became immersed in the colour blue.  A deep dark blue. I also hurt my back on a stubborn horse. This morning I woke up and decided there was quite enough of that, and today my inner child was needing attention. It was a beautiful clear sunny winters day.  We drove into the reserve. The impala rams have been behaving like idiots for the past few days. Furiously chasing each other around the place - making that sound like tearing up cardboard, and that weird grunting rutting bark. They have been clashing heads and acting like they own the place - all in an effort to impress the females and gather the biggest harem of all.  The females largely carry on grazing and moving from sun to shade and back again - occasionally taking off with a start if one of the clashes gets too close.  They are so vulnerable to super predators when they are like this as they are completely distracted with their own importance, and the task at hand. Plus they are making these weird noises that carry for miles.  Ironically the grunting rutting noise even sounds remotely like a leopard.

So there was an air of 'I told you so' when we came across a strong drag mark crossing the sand track this morning. It was pointed out to me how we could see the marks in the sand where the impala horns had bounced along, although the weight of the body had swept away the leopard tracks in all but a very few places.  We climbed down from the vehicle to follow the drag mark on foot, into the mopane forest.  Here and there we lost the track as it went through a gully, or grassy area, but quickly picked it up again on the other side. This leopard was a mighty strong animal. It dragged the heavy prey item between the trees, and into the long grass at the base of the koppies, without even stopping to eat.  There was no trace of grassy stomach contents or blood, only the smooth drag mark, and the marks made by the horns alongside. We went deeper into the forest, ducking under thorn branches, and stepping over rocks and logs.  Here in a flattened grassy glade we found the tail of the impala.  Around the corner, hidden away in a patch of long grass, the carcass of the lost ram.

The leopard had not had much time for feeding, so we guessed we were being watched - although it was impossible to see from where.  One little agitated bird call might have been a clue. Otherwise the blue sky and bright sunlight masked all secrets.  We retraced our steps, and went home to fetch the camera trap. Returning quickly we tied the impala ram to the nearest tree, so that the leopard would not drag it away. And we set up our antiquated camera trap overlooking the scene.  With luck, when the leopard returns, he will trigger the infra red sensor and we will be able to record his presence in digital images.

Leopards are masters of camouflage, and it is said you only see them when they decide to show themselves. You can hardly ever take them by surprise. Perhaps he was watching us from the long grass.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Seeing Red

carmine bee eater

I saw red yesterday. The colour red.  A deep luscious red with a hint of blue to give it depth. Not as dark as blood, nor as orange as a postbox, it was the kind of red you want to have around - to share the landscape with it. It made me thankful that i could see that red. 

Appreciating the ability to see that red, made me thankful for blue, ocean blue, cornflower blue, warm blue and cold blue. Then the floodgates opened and i thought of all the beauty in the world. I wondered how much time i had left to see it and didn't want to miss a jot. Sorry if that sounds morbid but the edges are already getting a bit blurred.

This world of ours is full of crazy extravagant beauty that defies the human imagination. But visuals are for beginners i guess. Beyond that lie smells, touches, sounds and extra sensory sensations.

Apart from that deeply philosophical moment in the parking lot yesterday, I caught three red toads in the house last night. Not the luscious red kind, more a burnt umber colour, but they squeaked indignantly as i delivered them to the great outdoors.

The full moon rose golden red through the trees last night.  A clear round orb unsoftened by summer haze.  We are heading into winter, as we celebrate Easter and the season of rebirth.