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Thursday, March 11, 2010

From Bally Vaughan

It’s the dead of night at the Bally Vaughan sanctuary. The bell on my gate jangles discordantly, jerking me awake as the word “Python!” reverberates through the darkness. The night guards and my assistant, Collin, are silhouettes in a milling crowd of giant-eared donkeys who are always inexorably drawn to the scene of any nocturnal activity. I grab a torch, pull a jacket over my pyjamas, shove my feet into my boots and fall over a furiously hissing mass of russet-red fur in the doorway. My caracals are awake too, and livid at having their intense sleep schedule disturbed. Arthur, the youngest, bites my ankle to prove this point and I stagger out into the night swearing and hopping on one leg. There is a massive python in the pig pens, probably en route to the rabbit hutches for a midnight feast and it is our job to divert and capture it for release elsewhere.

We speed past the Volunteer House, yelling for Janina, our Swedish volunteer who catapults out of the back door with a torch and an apprehensive expression. She is a little wary of pythons, having spent a happy hour in my garden on a play date with Smeegal the serval cat, only to discover that there was a python snuggled up behind a rock mere inches behind her. A few hours later a goat was killed on the water’s edge by the legendary Loch Ness Monster, the biggest python we have ever seen, and the most elusive. Three of us had managed to grab his immense, smooth, glistening form as he coiled himself insidiously around the lifeless form of the goat but he simply oozed through our hands, powerful muscles pulsating, and slid in sinister silence into the depths of the dam. During this incident Janina had been in charge of stopping our foolish family of mongrel dogs from throwing themselves into the fray and I think her nerves were still a little tattered from the experience. Now, faced by her third python in forty eight hours the novelty is wearing off. We catch this particular one and put it in a sack ready for release in the morning, and everyone goes back to bed, fighting our way back through the heavy-breathing donkeys and being dive-bombed by Woody and Trigger the eagle owls, who are delighted to have unexpected company and who are insistent on sharing their slightly smelly dinner of chicken hearts with us.

There are rather more donkeys around after an apparent breakdown in communications meant that several residents of the Sanctuary did not receive the memorandum about our No Breeding policy. I am enraged and confounded by the population surge because I don’t know who the father of all these fuzzy, velvet-nosed creatures is. Fred the zebra is under a dark cloud of suspicion but I just cant catch him red-handed, or hoofed as it were. He has perfected an air of smug detachment when I am around but I find him lurking far too often in dark corners and isolated spots of natural beauty with one or other of our lady donkeys. All he needs is a cigarette tucked behind his ear and a tight white T-shirt to perfect his image as the James Dean of the donkey world. Coco, one of our more amiable donkeys who has finally, after years of care, recovered from the horrific abuse she suffered from her previous owner, produced a tiny, velvety foal on Unity Day. Chanel was delivered by Dr Ramlaul on a sunny afternoon, assisted by several mongooses and Barkly the Brown Dog. As her frail little legs with their ridiculously large knees and her enormous ears unfolded and she took her first wobbly steps, the fact that we have exceeded the donkey quota simply didn’t seem to matter any longer.

An influx of orphans made us thankful that Kat Bijlsma was volunteering with us for a month. Arriving from America on the recommendation of a previous volunteer, Kat was thrown into the thick of hand-raising tiny Edward the duiker days after she arrived. Edward lost his mother to poachers and was rescued, starving and terrified, by the Kelder family. Orphans are raised as part of the family at the Sanctuary, sleeping in our beds and generally taking over the household, and Kat quickly adapted to sharing her bedroom with Edward and hand-feeding Bardot the wood owl on the dining room table. When Bardot arrived she was possibly the ugliest baby ever; a tiny scraggle of dirty feathers punctuated by a pair of protuberant eyes and with two maggot-infested holes in her head. Watching her blossom into one of our most endearing and beautiful residents has been a wonderful journey for us all. Visitors may meet Bardot in the ladies’ toilets where she monitors the use of the soap and toilet paper diligently, or employing her marketing skills in the curio shop where she likes to remove and eat the price tags from various items in between quality testing the seams on the cushion covers.

Bart the Jackal also came in at this time. Found on the university campus, Bart is surprisingly tame and was possibly a pet before being dumped or escaping. I spent many hours sitting with Bart, coaxing him to eat and finally getting him to play tentative little games with a tennis ball and a twist of rope. He developed a passionate attachment to a large fluffy polar bear toy and insisted on trying to carry it about in his tiny, sharp-toothed jaws before realising that play dates with Rover the Wriggly Red Dog were rather more rewarding. Each day Rover waits outside Bart’s enclosure to be let in for a couple of hours of rambunctious activity; chasing and wrestling and rolling luxuriantly in whatever pungent substance the two of them have chosen as their parfum du jour. Civet musk is a favourite, as is putrid frog and the knowledge that they are going to be unceremoniously collared and doused in the stream to clean them off after each play date does nothing to deter this foul pastime.

Our troupe of banded mongooses, free-roaming within the Sanctuary grounds now number thirty five, tripling their numbers in six months. As the undisputed kings of the Sanctuary they raid the kitchens, terrorise the dogs and help themselves to herbal tea and milk powder from the coffee shop. Their total disregard for boundaries, literal and metaphorical, is a constant source of chaos here. I was recently two hours late for an extremely important meeting because the mongooses had decided to take a course in mechanics and had infiltrated the engine of my car. Sudden muffled shrieking and growling from beneath the bonnet as I opened the car door made me screech with fright and drop my handbag into a puddle. Finally plucking up the courage to open the bonnet I was met with the startling sight of twenty pairs of gleaming eyes glaring at me from various parts of the engine and the ominous sound of dripping fluid. Entreaties failed, bribery in the form of a tray of 36 eggs failed, banging frantically on the side of the engine simply elicited more outraged screams..and then an ominous silence as all twenty of them disappeared from sight, followed by a strange clanking sound that I later discovered (ground to a steaming halt in the middle of the toll gate on Enterprise road) was the little bush mechanics making minute but disastrous adjustments to the water pump. Eventually they left of their own accord, sniggering and chattering vociferously as they raced across the garden en masse, bunched together to give the impression of one huge lithe beast.

Owls of all kinds continue to find a refuge here. Janina Bakstrom successfully rehabilitated and released a spotted eagle owl and a white-faced owl during her time with us, and we have rescued and released a total of eleven owls in the last four months. We have also taken on 6 guinea fowl and four baby monkeys.

An executive decision has been taken, banning me from collecting the predator meat from the abbatoir down the road after I returned not just with a truckload of offal, but with a six hundred kilogram Brahman cow and her calf. Cinderella and Snowy had been living at the abattoir after Cinderalla gave birth the night before she was due to be slaughtered. Living their lives amongst their doomed fellow creatures, Cinderella would be slaughtered once Snowy was weaned. Instantly my bunny-hugger instincts kicked in; my vegetarian sensibilities appalled by this scenario, and egged on by a fellow fool in the form of one of our overseas volunteers, we vowed to rescue Cinderella and her baby from impending death! Yes, certainly the management of the abattoir would allow us to have the cow and calf, if we paid the commercial value of their meat. Fired by her new role as saviour of the doomed, the volunteer had the necessary funds wired to Zimbabwe and Cinderella and Snowy were saved! Arriving with our small pick up truck to collect our new family members, the staff at the abattoir fell about with mirth. There was no way Cinderella was going to stand quietly in the back of the truck while we drove her home in triumph. The first uneasy prickle of doubt stirred in my mind. Perhaps Dr Ramlaul was right...when I had told him that I had acquired a cow, the first question he asked was, “What kind of cow?”

“What do you mean, what kind of cow? It’s just a cow! A big white one.” I snapped.

His voice took on that certain quality that he uses on dangerous dogs in the surgery, and on me quite a lot, while he explained that there were different kinds of cows, and that some of them could be very aggressive, particularly Braham cows with calves. I thought this was hilarious! Aggressive cows? As if!

“I plan to milk her, actually,” I said coolly, in the same tone of voice I use to tell him that the caracals have mistakenly eaten the last page of the book he has been transfixed by for days, or that yes, I have inadvertently been using his top-of-the-range kitchen knives to chop up branches to make monkey swings and that I didn’t know that a nightape that I left in the spare bedroom would eat the padding out of his cycling’s a tone probably best described as false bravado.

Anyway, we walked our new acquisitions home; a long and nerve-racking journey through maize fields and tobacco crops that caught the rolling, slightly manic eye of the giant Cinderella as we ran in circles around her entreating and admonishing and waving buckets of bran in front of her nose.

The next day I was late for yet another meeting. This time I was held hostage in my garden by an angry cow. She simply rested her huge, curved horns on either side of my garden gate and refused to budge. The following day we got into an ugly tussle over a packet of bread rolls. Cinderalla wanted them, and she took them by sheer force. Later that afternoon, while we were offloading a truck load of vegetables, accompanied by the usual mob of donkeys, zebras, horses and other over-excited herbivores, she demonstrated her excellence at a new game called Tossing the Sheep. She simply scooped up poor woolly Martha with her horns and flung her out of the way. Fortunately only Martha’s dignity was damaged but it gave us an idea of Cinderella’s massive strength. Over the next few weeks she ate my garden fence, stabbed me in the ribs with her horn and chased me round the carpark. She got into my garden and gave Harry the caracal a black eye, and she inspired such fear in the dogs that they wouldn’t come out of their kennels.

I am yet to milk her.

And so our family continues to grow. And, as always, it is our friends and sponsors who make it possible for us to continue to offer a safe haven to all these creatures who arrive, usually with no notice; starving, dehydrated, frequently injured and always deeply traumatised. They are safe here, and loved and cared for to the very best of our ability. They know that every day they will have plentiful food, clean water and spacious areas in which to live their lives. Toys and treats are a part of their daily routine, grooming and cuddles and company are always on hand. We start every day with a visit to each animal, making sure everyone ate their dinner, stopping for a chat with Blossom the hyena, a head rub from Khan the leopard and always a lengthy and strident conversation with Kadiki the Lioness which usually involves some sort of scathing comments about her long-suffering and hen-pecked husband Nduna.

Last year ended on a tragic and traumatic note when Kadiki produnced one tiny, premature cub. Nduna had been vasectomised as he is an inbred rescue from a commercial lion farm and we are against the breeding of big cats in captivity, and there was no sign that our beloved lioness was pregnant so this was a terrible shock to us all, and particularly to Kadiki who quite simply did not seem to understand what had happened to her. Hearing a commotion in the lion enclosure on New Year’s Eve I ran to investigate and found a trembling and distraught Kadiki at the fence, calling frantically to me. She would run a few metres, stop and look back at me and call to me again in patent distress. Racing round to the back of the enclosure I found Nduna with the yowling cub between his gigantic paws. He also looked perplexed and frightened and backed off immediately from the cub when he saw me. Kadiki licked the minute, spotted scrap but then stood on it and appeared oblivious to the wail of pain and shock that this elicited from her baby. Once again she came to the fence and gave another guttural distress call before lying down a few metres from the cub and ignoring it completely. I tentatively extended a shaking hand to pick up the cub and didn’t react at all as I held the frail little creature and realised that it must have been born prematurely. Despite franctic efforts to save him, Kadiki and Nduna’s son died. Holding the limp little body that should have grown into the magnificence and majesty that is the King of the Beasts was one of the saddest moments I have ever experienced. A life so brief and fleeting still sears your heart with what might have been and remains in your memory like a little ghost.

Heartbreak walks silently beside us as we go about our work here. The loss of animals so dearly loved and cherished that they become part of the very essence of our lives; interwoven into our hearts and memories irrevocably, always with us and missed and thought of every day. Losing my darling Twala, the female caracal who shared my life and my home for ten years, has left me devastated. Beloved of us all, the Twirly Whirly Girl, so beautiful and wise and clever, will always be with us. A cat so sublimely sure of her elegance and wit that she had perfected that superb arrogance only the very best cats can carry off. A mere look flashed from her golden-green eyes was enough to subdue even the most rambunctious behaviour of Harry and Arthur, her brothers. We will always remember Twala’s brisk maternal administrations to the endless troupe of orphans and waifs who share our lives; holding down indignant lion cubs twice her size to wash inside their ears, marching through the house with furiously wriggling baby servals in her mouth, and her devoted care of our rescue donkeys; washing their terrible wounds with such gentleness and curling up quietly beside Trotsky, a donkey so viciously beaten and abused he died a few hours after we brought him to the Sanctuary. Who can ever forget the happy evenings with Twala coiled fatly beneath the table, listening to the conversations and music with barely perceptible flutters of her magnificently tufted ears, her fabulous whiskers fanned out to catch even the slightest nuance of a possible snack coming her way. “Girls Nights” were her favourite events; stretched languorously on the carpet graciously accepting the compliments and accolades always bestowed on her by my friends, acknowledging each person in the room with a cool kiss from her tip of her noble nose and a flick of her little tail. Twala is still such a tangible presence in our lives it is very hard to come to terms with the fact that she slipped away and left us; that one last tiny breath on my face a final farewell from the most beloved creature of all.

Whenever I think of the animals who we have loved so much who are no longer with us, I take comfort from the story told by Anatole France in “Penguin Island” when a conference is held in heaven to decide whether animals baptised by St Francis should be considered to have souls. St Catherine of Alexandria says, “Give them souls – but tiny ones.” I like to think of all those little souls gone on ahead of us to a world with no pain or fear or cruelty.

Long and unscheduled power cuts continue to play havoc with our operations. The antiquated plumbing and electrical systems at the Sanctuary are a constant challenge too as pipes break and electrical appliances blow up, and a new neighbour made life miserable while we waited for the late rains by diverting our water source until we reduced to pumping water from a stagnant pool. Unbelievably the electricity supply company arrived one day to cut off our electricity, waving an unpaid bill for several thousand dollars. We had not received a bill from these people for over a year, had power less than four hours a day for over a year and sometimes no power at all for days on end, so watching the smug messenger of darkness flick off our mains switch and seal it with a plastic sticker was enraging. A vitriolic conversation with the head office ensued, punctuated by the usual deafening hoots of the donkeys and incessant crowing of our many roosters, which triggers off a chorus of howls from the dogs, which gets Kylie and Blossom the Hyenas whooping and cackling, and the louder I yell, the more vigorous the background chorus gets. I actually think in the end the person I was dealing with simply couldn’t stand the noise any more and reduced our bill to six hundred dollars and switched the power back on just to get rid of me.

Our herbivores are fat and flourishing thanks to George Kille and all at S & P Logistics, Rose and Rogan Mclean, all at Sunspun Bananas who have made the lives of our monkeys and other animals so much better with their support, Freshpro, the Minter family, Sue’s foods, Belinda and Wayne Whitaker, Niren Ramlaul and Green Park, Sue Roberts, Thomas Wicke and family, Jean Roger and Karen Paolillo, Johnny and Cheryl Rodrigues and the ZCTF. Ross and Cherith Bingley have provided exceptional support to our donkeys, monkeys,zebras and other animals and we are extremely grateful to them for stepping in when we were so desperate for food for our animals.

Our magnificent predators enjoy a sumptuous dinner every day at 4pm thanks to Montana Meats, Stoff Hawgood of Tavistock Estates, Freshpro, Crugs Chooks, Trinity Ncube, the Taylor family, Steve Curle, and the Bean family and staff at Douglyn Farm.

Rodney Beckley makes it possible for our truck to do its daily journeys transporting the massive amounts of food we need by servicing and repairing the vehicle at Smooth Runnings. Thanks to Rob Follet-Smith and Alro Shipping for diesel fuel and to Pam and Terry of Chinanga Safaris and Leanne Byrom for sponsoring the fuel for so many rescues.

The Christiansen family regularly treat our rescued dogs to delicious dog food and also donated books to our shop. Thanks to Beverley Bridger, Les Ives and all those who have donated goods to our shop.

Karen Bean and the Book Borrowers, Paul and Jackie Healy, Casey Boudreau and St Elmo’s continue to make it possible for Nduna the lion to enjoy a wonderful, fulfilled and joyful life and your generous donations will also cover the cost of recent veterinary operations and treatments for our lions.

Sophie and Alexandra Bean are devoted sponsors of Khan the leopard, Avani Mooljee, Daire Cullen, Maxime and Chris Ilsink, Karen Mutasa, Lorna Joubert, Marti Brits and family, Mr and Mrs Berry, Chooks and Dave Langerman, Cathy Carter, Vicky Campion, Emma Robinson and Phil Barclay, Dr Tinashe Zimhunga, Deb Addison, Krafty Kids Nursery, Mike Trask, Clara Coogan, Kate Bristow, Alistair and Pam Cockcroft, Tim and Eleanor Moore, Halsteads (who donated a wheelbarrow which is a godsend!), Shane from Xpress Print Shop, Gina Everson, Anne Marie Witkowski, Meryl Harrison, Rob Greebe, Mrs D’Elia, Mark Rossiter are all constant and generous supporters of the Sanctuary projects, and each year Ashlee Middleton and her family raise money for the animals, putting hours of work into producing homemade cakes and other delicious things which are sold on behalf of the Sanctuary. Evan and Ellen Owen-Powell requested donations for the animals in lieu of wedding presents at their wedding in the UK and Kim Devlin asked guests to bring gifts for the animals rather than for her when she held her birthday party at the Sanctuary. Thomas Wicke’s birthday party, held each year at the Sanctuary always raises a significant amount for the animals, in particular the marmoset monkeys, and Anthea Thackstone sends a donation for the marmosets each year.

Bruce McLaughlin of Trotters donated a team of painters and builders to the Sanctuary for two weeks, as well as materials, to paint all our buildings and do long-overdue repairs to our kitchens, toilets and restaurant. The quality of the work is superb and it has truly brightened our lives to be working in fresh and clean surroundings thanks to the kindness and generosity of Bruce. Paint for this project came from the donation given by Absolute Paints at our Golf Day.

Mike Garden of Bambe Zonki Nhasi, Tina of Hello Harare, Rhonnie of the CFU, Stan Higgins of Aquarius Public Relations and Jenni Ferguson have all been invaluable in raising awareness of our work at the Sanctuary, for which we are very grateful.

To the ladies of Golfing and Giving, we appreciate your support so much. Our beautiful new chair covers, arranged by Di Fyn, stock feed and wire to repair enclosures has made such a difference to the Sanctuary.

Thanks go as always to our team of Zimbabwean volunteers who give up their time to help out at the Sanctuary each weekend; Les Ives, Neil Noble, Dianne Twiggs, Leanne Freel, Sharon Nichols and Sylvia Carter, who not only provides all the homemade cakes and biscuits for our coffee shop but does our gardens, provides transport for the other volunteers and takes on the unenviable task of baby-sitting the caracals in my absence. To my husband, Vin, who dedicates so much time and care to us all, thank you from the heart.

To update all those of you who supported our hugely successful and inspiring Golf Day we have achieved the following with the funds raised on the that day:

2 new deep freezers for Predator Meat, 3 new compressors for freezers damaged by a Zesa power surge, 4 surge protectors

Desperately needed repairs to our 2 trucks including servicing, new lights, new brake pads and shocks

The purchase of materials and the construction of a new stock feed shed

A spray Knapsack

Rain suits and Gum boots for the staff

Water pipes to replace the water system to the horse paddock, lion pen and leopard enclosure

Materials for our Animal Hospital (cement, wire, nails, tools, infra-red lamps, electric cabling, roofing sheets, black plastic sheeting, fleece material, 4 wooden kennels, shade cloth, generator

Fencing wire to repair lion enclosure, extend hyena enclosure and re-wire bird aviary

Once again I would like to thank Andrew Revolta, Sharon Nichols and Craig and Debbie Sly for putting together such a wonderful day. We have not only been able to carry out extensive repairs and renovations thanks to the overwhelming support we received, but it has also been a tremendous morale boost for us all and for that we cannot express our gratitude enough to our friends and sponsors.

CONTACT US ON 0912 592 944 0912 106819 0733 436239 or 04 497588.

The Sanctuary is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm. NO NEED TO BOOK! Restaurant open all day for light meals and drinks. Adult entry $4, children under 12 $2

PREDATOR FEEDING EVERY DAY AT 4pm. Fishing licences available, rock pool for the kids, farm animals to pet and feed, curio shop

Spend a unique day out with our animal family in beautiful surroundings only 40km from the city centre.

Half Day Trips are an ideal way to meet our animal family and hear the stories of our beloved residents. They cost $15 per person and run from 9:30am to 12:30pm, including morning tea and cakes.

Inter-active School Trips provide a fun, educational outing for school children of all ages and cost $3 per child.

Game Ranger Days for children aged 7 -12 every Wednesday of the school holidays.

The Twenty Four Hour Veterinary Surgery on the corner of Upper East Rd and Second St. Extension is a drop-off point where donations and goods for the Sanctuary can be safely left.

With love,

Sarah and all at the Sanctuary




Tel: 263 592 944 263 4 497588


1 comment:

  1. Hello Sarah

    Nice to see Bally Vaughn is still going on despite all that has happened. Well done on what you have accomplished..