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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From Bally Vaughan

The first rains have fallen at last, bursting out of a lowering sky that has been blackened and bulging with the promise of rain for weeks. As the river roars into life again, the dusty ground snatches up the moisture and the first brilliant green spears of new grass appear, to be immediately nibbled flat by Martha the sheep and her woolly cohorts. The usual rustling, scurrying plethora of winged and multi-legged creatures arrive, buzzing through the windows and rioting round the lamps. At night the symphony of nocturnal sounds expands to include the liquid notes of the burgeoning waterfall at the bottom of my garden and rain on the roof, and the calypso band sounds of a thousand tree frogs and crickets reverberate above the roaring of the lions and the rhythmic sawing cough of Khan the leopard.

After our Golf Day in October, we were able to attack the endless repairs and wish lists for improvements with renewed vigour, thanks to the funds we raised. The small predators all got duplex housing – snug wooden structures with ladders and balconies. A new deep freezer for predator meat arrived (bringing the total number of meat freezers to 18!) and the freezer room was re-wired. We painted the animal hospital and put in infra-red lights, and solar lights into other buildings. Our pick-up truck that carries such heavy loads to and from the Sanctuary every day has ahd extensive work done and at last it starts without the hazardous Grand Slalom run down the hill with half the staff pushing from behind and the rest sprinting frantically in front to scoop jay-walking donkeys, dogs and chickens from my path whilst I frantically pump the accelerator and screech expletives out the window. Bruce Maclaughlin’s team of master craftsmen from Trotters arrived – a donation of labour and materials from Bruce for the second year running to repair and maintain the Sanctuary buildings. All our funding gets gobbled up by the animals immediately and it is very difficult to find money for basic structural maintenance. The Trotters team take care of this for us and we are extremely grateful to them for their generous support.

The animals continue to consume massive amounts of food, the sick and injured and abused new arrivals need veterinary treatment and vitamins and blankets and toys and shelters, and we need more enclosures all the time. There are owls everywhere – in the hospital, in the owl pen by the river, in an aviary, and still we need more space for new residents. As fast as we rehabilitate and release them, more arrive. Nine guinea pigs and an adolescent vervet monkey missing one eye come in from the S.P.C.A, then five guinea fowl, two tiny thrushes and a gymnogene that has been hit by a car. Alfie the monkey is brought in after his mother is killed by dogs. He is tiny and blue with huge ears and cold pink hands. He has to share a nursery enclosure with our darling, doted upon Angus the determinedly bottle-fed genet and Angus’ constant companion, Morag the kitten. This is not working – Angus files vociferous complaints as Alfie pulls Angus’ ears and gloriously fluffy, striped tail and steals his food and toys. When Angus complains, it’s hard to ignore him – he stands on his plushly furred back feet, front feet tucked into his chest like a meerkat, gossamer whiskers fanned about his sharp little face, pink ears twitching and dark eyes glowing directly at me, and he utters a series of tiny, breathy mews. “See how vulnerable I am,” he is saying, “Please help!” Appealing, heart-melting, irresistible. (Shortly afterwards I know he will return to his ferocious wrestling match with Morag, but it still gets me every time). So, Alfie has to go. He moves into a new enclosure.

And then the bush babies arrived.

When the innocuous-sounding Didi and Percy arrived, we were entranced by the bush babies extravagant grey fluff, their little pink muzzles and their ridiculously big, crumpled ears. Having been pets since they were babies, now middle-aged, and with Didi sporting less than half a tail, we felt they were unsuitable for release and hastily constructed yet another new enclosure whilst they took up temporary residence in a nursery pen. As we released Didi from his carry cage, his owner warned me to get out of the pen. “I fear for your life,” were her words. I thought she was joking.

Later that day he launched his first assault. Emerging in sinister slow motion from his sleeping quarters, placing one meaty five-fingered paw in front of the other as he inched down the branch, I was lulled into a foolish and false sense of security by his lack of haste and overall fluffy cuteness. Then in one graceful move, Didi leapt onto my calf and buried his extremely long and viciously sharp teeth into my flesh. He raised his furry head, clutching my leg with surprisingly strong fingers and gazed at me with cold calculation from beneath his beetling mono-brow, and then leant carefully to the left and bit me again, even harder. I knew that if I tried to grab him he would savage my hands so I stayed stock still and avoided his confrontational glare as he jumped onto my shoulder and threw his fluffy arms around my neck, bestowing on me the sort of ebullient hug one reserves for long-lost friends. Having punished me for whatever transgressions he believed I had committed, Didi was now prepared to let bygones be bygones...until a week later when he did it again, growling and snarling like a dog as he bit me nine times on my other leg and leaving me trembling with shock and pain whilst he sauntered off to pick meditatively through his bowl of raisins whilst shooting me the occasional glinting glance of triumph laced with menace.

There are now standing orders with regard to the care of the bush babies, and it takes more of us to feed and clean their enclosure than it does to take care of the lions daily needs. Visitors seeing us shuffle past swathed in heavy blankets and elbow length gauntlet would imagine that we are off to face the scariest super predator. And indeed we are. The bush babies, on the other hand, are blissfully happy in the enormous, treed enclosure we have constructed for them, with a separate sleeping and dining area where we lay out feasts of black cherry yoghurt, fruit and teeming bowls of flying ants with the occasional pink marshmallow thrown in as a bribe.

One October afternoon, our foreman returned from town with three very small tortoises and two baby jackals. The jackals were about three weeks old, with thick brown fur and little foxy faces punctuated with fearful eyes. They were soaking wet and covered in red mud, despite it being the middle of the dry season. As I lifted the smallest one from the box she jerked in terror and water trickled from her ears. Absolutely overwhelmed with fear and panic, they scuttled into the nearest corner and huddled together with their faces to the wall. Too young to eat solid food competently, and too terrified of human contact to suckle on a bottle, they lost condition rapidly. Eventually we managed to get small quantities of baby formula into them. But the crushing fear remained. At the first sign of a person, they would scuttle, little heads hunched between sharp shoulder blades, to wedge themselves face first into a corner. It was as if they hoped that if they couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see them. Most of the times they just sat apathetically with their heads hanging, so bewildered and frightened and full of instinctive horror that they couldn’t even fall asleep. In all the years that I have been involved in animal welfare, I have never seen baby animals in such a state of chronic stress.

Helena, the smallest one, got sick first. Her throat swelled up with a sudden, virulent infection and she could barely swallow. Stress ravaged her immune system and she did not respond to treatment. We took her in to the veterinary surgery for further treatment and as I opened the basket and lifted her out, she stopped breathing. Without Helena, Ursula simply did not want to carry on. She had been the bigger and stronger of the two pups, protective of her little sister and braver. But now it seemed that without Helena, Ursula no longer had a reason to live, and she too slipped away despite desperate efforts to save her.

This case weighs down upon us all. The jackals were defenceless babies. They had been born in a den on a piece of land in Harare where generations of jackals have lived and raised their young. Orders were given that the jackals should be eliminated. Workers flooded the den, no doubt as the babies lay sleeping in the place they considered a safe haven, and they were then dug out. The terror and incomprehension suffered by these little animals as the water poured into their den and earth rained down on them as the shovels ate away at the earth above them is unimaginable. Soaking wet and filthy, they were then driven back and forth across Harare whilst the workers tried to find someone to take the jackals. Taken to a place that should be a place where animals like this receive care and treatment, they were sent away ‘for fear of rabies”. Eventually they came to us; too late.

Two generations of jackals have been wiped out by this barbaric exercise. Surely we should feel privileged to share our city with the servals and genets and mongooses and jackals that have made a life for themselves against all the odds in our urban sprawl? Amidst the rubbish dumps and rain-eaten roads and bloated drains that deface Harare, should we not feel a sense of wonder and delight to see the shadowy shapes of wild animals braving the walls and gates and razor wire of this suburban citadel? The people that destroyed these jackals would probably be appalled if someone killed domestic dogs in the manner in which these jackals lost their lives, but the vicious eradication of the jackals was complacently justified because jackals are, apparently, vermin. The memory of the wide-eyed, trembling babies that died at the Sanctuary will haunt us.

The delightful Bart the side-striped jackal shares my home with my two caracals and a serval cat. He is immaculately groomed, fastidious in his habits and a truly beautiful and astonishingly intelligent animal who has brought us great joy as we have watched him grow from an orphaned baby to the enchanting, glossy character that he is now.

Two weeks after the devastating loss of Ursula and Helena, another baby jackal arrived. Found by the Wakefield family beneath their trampoline, Sofia was malnourished and covered in small, healing laceration. She had probably escaped from an encounter with a small predator and perhaps lost her mother in the process. Enormous brown eyes and an elegantly long nose dominated a delicate, angular face with thick pale brown fur was yet to exhibit the spectacular markings of a side-striped jackal. Sofia was wary of us, but having been handled with compassion by the Wakefields, she showed none of the debilitating signs of stress that killed Ursula and Helena.

Sofia is now boisterous and playful, indulging in wild, gambolling games with her companion Olympia- a rescue puppy who has proved to be the ideal companion for our little jackal. Bart is enraptured with this potential girlfriend and postures and preens outside her enclosure, arching his glorious, bushy tail and throwing coy glances over his shoulder to check she is suitably impressed with his magnificence.

Five barn owls have arrived recently, four of them happy to share our tall, treed owl pen by the river until ready for release, but Margot is a different story. Thin and frail after living inside someone’s house for a long period of time, she seems frightened of the other owls and happiest in human company. Content to potter about the Gazebo with the curious, hunched gait common to all owls (like someone walking bare-foot on a pebbly beach), she takes occasional sorties into the air, usually with disastrous consequences. During a fit of pique because I had stopped her eating a teabag in the coffee shop, she flew straight into the crocodile pen and disappeared into a bed of reeds. In the distorting silver light of an approaching thunderstorm I had to pick my way past the huge, ominous form of our crocodile to her rescue, only to have her fly straight past my ear and into the lion pen. Fortunately Nduna, who is a darling but terribly thick, failed to notice this feathery snack plummet into his territory and she took off again without incident. She eventually came to rest in the middle of the dam, mistaking the water weed for solid ground. So into the dam I dived, swimming through clutching skeins of slime and feeling the anonymous, slippery swirl of aquatic creatures against my skin. Swimming across a murky expanse of water in a thunderstorm is unpleasant, swimming back with a very angry owl in one hand is a feat I hope never to repeat.

Just to end off a fabulous day, as I was sluicing the slime and pond scum off in the shower, the geyser on the roof was hit by lightning and a bolt of electricity shot up from the metal shower drain and catapulted me, screaming and wild-eyed from the shower to fall over the ever-present Harry the caracal who squatted damply on the bathmat. Thank goodness he had already got out of the shower because I cannot think of a more potentially disastrous situation than being trapped in a shower stall with an electrified predator.

Harry is my constant and sometimes overwhelming companion, together with his fellow caracal, Arthur, punctuating my life here with their endless antics and endearing personalities. Stretching their considerable bulk alongside me on the bed each night, throwing my clothes on the floor because they like to nap in my wardrobe, knocking my cosmetics off the dressing table so they can sit in front of the mirror and admire their astonishing, tufted ears, even hogging the shower and helping themselves to whatever they fancy whenever I open the fridge. Each morning they leap onto the breakfast table to poke their huge paws into my cereal and slash holes in the newspaper; it’s as if they consider their job to prepare me for the many travails and challenges of the day ahead, caring for our ever-increasing family of animals and birds that now numbers more than three hundred.

Rupert the Tortoise found a home at the Sanctuary after his owners of sixteen years moved house. Rupert is actually a girl and became as coquettish and coy as it is possible for a tortoise to be when she met Humphrey, our large male tortoise. The spark must have fizzled however, because today she is sharing her portion of grapes with a much younger man, who is also a tenth of her size, but no doubt true love will find a way.

Eleven baby mongooses have been born this season, expanding our band of free-ranging banded mongooses to thirty three. A white-faced owl arrived with a broken wing. These birds have spectacularly beautiful copper-coloured eyes that burn hypnotically within their mask of white feathers. Moto (meaning fire) has a ferocious temper and will launch himself off his perch at my face while I am serving his dinner of two whole rats. Fortunately Moto should make a full recovery and will be returned to the wild, which will be a great relief to us both! Two more white-faced owls have come in; sadly one was so badly infested with a pox virus that she died, but an adolescent with a head injury is showing signs of improvement.

It is thanks to our wonderful friends and sponsors that our animals and birds enjoy such exceptional quality of life at the Sanctuary. We are truly grateful to George Kille and all at S&P for exceptional support of our Farm Animal Rescue Project, Di Finn and Golfing and Giving, Fresh Pro, Fruit and Veg City, Afro Foods, Trinity Ncube, Montana Meats, Linda Chant and Gletwyn Farm, the Bingley family, the Bean family at Douglyn, Carswell Meats, Jolly Jongwe, Crugs Chooks, Kim Devlin and all at 9a Drew Road for sponsorship of Babu the baboon, Mike Garden and Ndeipi, Zimtrader, Hello Harare, Lesley Duncan, the Wilson Family, Stan Higgins, Sue Roberts for hay and poles, Jackie Cocksedge, Paul Mitchell and all at Centra for a very generous and regular donation of stockfeed, Rose and Rogan Maclean who sponsor our dear donkeys, Vera Taylor, Emma Robinson and family who are long-term sponsors of Cruella the caracal, Cathy and Iris Carter – sponsors of Kevin the Greyhound, Feedmix , ML Safaris, Samir Shasha, Jonny Laughton and friends, Miles Bennet, Darren Lanca who so kindly and competently rehabilitates many of our wild bird rescues, Anesh Ramlaul, Dr Mark Lombard, Meryl Harrison, Helen Wroe, Dave Adams of Radiator Services, LonZim and Belts ‘n Hoses, who fails to hide his great kindness and generosity behind the occasional grumpiness, Robyn Joughin, Sunspun Bananas, Alliance Insurance who donated so generously towards our new enclosure building project, the Ilsink Family, Beverley Bridger, Brookfield Farm, Dianne Twiggs, Steve Watt, WebDev, Yo Africa, our friend Scott Parker and Rat Creek Productions in Canada, Theo fro, Cold Control who donated a free installation of solar lights, the Friend Foundation, Joe Leese, Ashley-Kate Davidson, Richard Lombard and the Ultimate Diary who donate beautiful diaries and calendars each year, Thibauld, Pauline and Lionel Goffin Goemans who sponsor Jacob the donkey, Pepsi the Serval and Ngozi the lion, Sophie and Alexandra Bean who have sponsored Khan the leopard so generously, Avani Mooljee who sponsors the marmosets, Tom Hill and Jake Mallon who spent two weeks living and working with us at the Sanctuary, Gina Everson who makes it possible for the irrepressible George the monkey to enjoy sumptuous treats of cashew nuts and watermelon and supports us in so many ways, the Twenty Four Hour Veterinary Surgery who care for our animals, Shane Zangel who donated a Christmas cake for our raffle, the photographer Tim Griffith for the very generous donation of a superb camera for us to record the daily adventures and events at the Sanctuary, Sharon Nicholls for exceptional support in so many ways, Scott Rae and Express Print Shop, Alona and Yaviv from Israel who took such devoted care of the Terrible Alfie the monkey, Kat Bijlsma – friend, sponsor and volunteer who returned for her third sojourn at the Sanctuary from San Francisco and coped so admirably with the diva demands of our mercurial little genet Angus and his friend Morag and who was such a source of moral support during the heartbreaking loss of our two baby jackals, and as always, Vinay Ramlaul.

The Sanctuary is open throughout the holidays from 9am to 5pm. Predator Feeding is at 4pm every day and monkey feeding at 10:30am. Half day trips are available by prior booking, but there is NO NEED TO BOOK to visit the Sanctuary. We rely on you to keep the Sanctuary functioning as a safe haven for animals in need – thank you for making it possible for the animals to have a bright future.

With love

Sarah and all at the Sanctuary



Tel: 263 912 592 944 263 733 436 239


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