It is that time of the year again when send out newsletters – so here it is:
This newsletter has been very difficult for me to compile due to the very sad loses of both Muffet and Asia. Both of these cats have been in my life since their birth and had become very important figures, on this journey of mine. Each loss stabs me in the heart and leaves a scar, which I fear that even time does not take away. When we take these individual lives and decide to return them to the wild – you can never be totally certain that you are making the right decision. Muffet arrived in a Bata shoe box, eyes closed and full of nonsense. Each day that passed I could see her in the wild, being as free as any wild animal can be in Zimbabwe under this current environment. But for her life to be taken by a nonsensical, white woman – there can be no excuse!
Asia, I helped her into this world. When she arrived, her mother Hooch did not want anything to do with her. As she came out of the womb, I was there to break her amniotic sac and introduce her into this world. From day one, Asia touched my heart. She was an old and wise soul, coming into my life to help me with the hardships which would come my way and most certainly give me the extra bit of strength to continue. If I felt I could no longer deal with the ever changing environment, all I had to do was go and be with Asia. She would talk and smooch and love me, unconditionally and completely. There is a huge hole in my life with out her.
Who said working with animals would be easy? Perhaps the hardest part of this path is to say goodbye to those creatures who enter our world and then have to leave before us. Each passing is a lesson in itself and one which at times I wish I did not have to learn. With a lot of the animals we work with, only through death are we able to learn more about how better to keep them alive! Ironic isn’t it? The experiences which we have gained through working with these wild animals must be collected and correlated and made available to all parties who are either interested or work with similar animals.
There comes a time in every mammal’s life when they start to show signs of becoming very old. Hasha has reached that point in her life. Due to her age, (we know she is around 16 years old) she is spending a lot of her time just eating and sleeping, which for an elderly creature is normal. She has the run of the whole property but chooses to remain in her safe territory. Now being winter, the ambient temperature drops in the early mornings and evenings so Hasha is given a warmed bean bag. When animals become old, they do seem to have a little more trouble regulating their temperature, so we try and help them by supporting them with a heated alternative. Hasha has become very protective of her bean bags and unless she can see a warmed bean bag on its way to her, she will growl at you when you try and remove the old one. Hasha is now being fed twice a day, with her normal diet in the evenings and then in the morning a bowl of pronutro, mixed with yoghurt and warmed milk. Due to the levels of interaction which Hasha still has with us, we are of the opinion that so long as she has quality of life and is in good condition, then she is still meant to remain, as a very important part of our family. As she has become older we have managed to tame her more and more. We are now able to brush and stroke her, which are all good forms of interaction we believe.
African Wild Cat
Asia, my precious girl. Born, one late afternoon, on the 9 December 2003, Asia was in a rush to get into this world. Arriving at least 10 minutes after her sister India, this tiny baby was a mass of wet mucus and after gently opening the embryonic sac; Asia was all eyes and tail. Hooch was not even remotely interested in her, and even after trying to get Asia to suckle from Hooch, by placing her onto Hooch’s stomach – I realised that this was not to be. Asia was cold and wet and the only place for her was in my bra close to my heart which is where she will always remain. Asia was a model cat, hardly ever getting even the slightest ailment or causing any trouble. That is not to say she did not have a mind of her own and could be incredibly vocal when she was not getting her own way. Asia was not very engaging when it came to other people, she tolerated people but there was and will always be a very special bond between Asia and I. When Asia gave birth on 27TH Aug 2006, she decided to make it very much a family affair. The evening before the kittens arrived, she was at the gate making very interesting noises and when I walked away those noises seemed to increase. I decided that perhaps Asia wanted to come into the house and be with me! I took her to my room where she promptly made herself at home by lying down on the bed and taking over. That night Asia and I shared my bed, (thankfully it is a double) as small Wild Cats named Asia seemed to take up rather a lot of space. Early hours of the morning, Asia started purring and dribbling, which I took as the beginning of contractions as there was a lot of blinking and ears going flat against her head. Before I knew it there was pushing and low growling coming from Asia. Feeling totally helpless all I could do was offer words of encouragement and wait. There was a moment of panic, when I could see the first kittens head but Asia did not seem to be able to push hard enough to get the rest of the body out! Nature is an amazing thing and before long (seemed an eternity) the first kitten was born. We waited another half and hour and then the contractions started once again, and Asia had to push! Number two arrived. Asia was licking them and encouraging them to stay close to her. During this whole experience, I was privileged enough to be allowed to watch and remain close to Asia. After nearly an hour, Asia started, for the third time to pushing and growl. Number three arrived. Minsk, Beluka and Mandalay, two males and a female. Wow I was busting with pride. Asia was extremely pleased and just lay on the bed with the three kittens drinking quietly from her.
For the next ten days Asia remained, in my bedroom, in fact I moved out after she attacked me once whilst I was asleep! So I moved into the lounge whilst she continued to bond with her kittens. When I felt that there was no danger of her eating or being stressed about being moved I moved her and the kittens to our nursery room which has been adapted for wild orphans and babies.
Tragedy struck our lives on 13th June 2009. During the afternoon feeding run, Ellen discovered Asia lying in an odd position near a lower fence in the enclosure. On closer inspection, the horrifying, chilling realisation – Asia was dead. With no immediate signs of the cause of death, we came to an educated presumption that she had a stroke. This is consistent with the following: a month earlier she had developed pneumonia suddenly. We brought her into the house and treated immediately with antibiotics, keeping her indoors for 5 days. Within 12 hours of the first antibiotic injection there was a remarkable improvement. By the following weekend Asia was back to her normal self and ready to go back to Siam, seemingly in good form. Just over a month later we found her dead in the enclosure with no visible cause of death (e.g. poison, snake bite etc). We have subsequently found in some research that sometimes after a severe chest infection, the patient may potentially suffer a stroke later on as the heart muscle is compromised. The facts do not help when it comes to trying to accepting her loss. We straight away removed Siam from the enclosure where Asia had died. He was very vocal and seemed obviously stressed, so we put him next to the other two girls, India and Burma. Siam, definitely does not enjoy being on his own so over the following few days we started, slowly introducing the three cats. What could have been a lot of fighting, scratching and biting – in fact could not have been calmer. The three cats sniffed one another and then just walked on past, seemingly more interested in the different sights and sounds of the enclosure than each other. I suppose as humans we sometimes take for granted that these animals are well acquainted, if only through a diamond mesh fence.
Burma, who was destined for release this year, has been implanted! What a little ‘pork chop’ – as with the implant she has put on weight (increased appetite) and we are therefore trying to exercise her more. As we have had to revise our release policy, we are‘re-taming’ her (as she was the first to lead walk!) which has been a wonderful experience. At first she was just totally appalled at the thought of having a human touch her; however she has started to come around and now thinks that it actually could be rather enjoyable. Her tail goes straight up in the air and presents a rather rounded derriere due to weight gain from the implant. (Most women who have endured some forms of contraception will concur!!) Due to her new status as a single, implanted female, we thought she might enjoy some other male company without risk of kittens, so we introduced her and Minsk. This was a very safe option, as neither are capable of breeding at this stage (Minsk has been sterilized) and to our surprise he was rather violent! So that lasted all of about 5 minutes with Burma getting some exercise whilst scrambling up a tree away from a fired-up Minsk.
Hooch has been given the title of “chief rat catcher” – due to a successful kill in the civet pen. Unfortunately in the winter season, the rodents are on the hunt for food and have found a never-ending source of delectable fruit and meat with Badger the civet and have thus taken up residence in his enclosure. We have tried all manner of humane traps, which the rats have proved to smart for – so now we have had to get tough, hence sending in General Hooch.
These animals continue to amaze me. You can never fully predict the nature of a civet, whether they are in a good mood or going to attack! Francis even though she has greatly improved on her mental front – however when food is involved she has given both Ellen and I a run for our money, growling, barking and chasing us in full attack mode!!! If nothing else it most certainly gets your adrenalin pumping.
The time has arrived and we are starting to introduce Francis to Assisi. Now the Francis has been implanted, it is safe for the two of them to be together. During the month of June Francis has been a lot calmer. In the morning she has been eager to jump into her house with very little persuasion. This has been a huge improvement for her, and hopefully the next step being introduced to Assisi, will be the last of the pacing.
Badger has some new lodgers in his enclosure – having discovered the five star treatment of excellent food delivered to the door, warm accommodation and 24 hour security protection in the form of a grumpy civet, a rabble of rats (using the correct English collective noun) have taken up residence in casa de Civet. It has brought many laughs and excitement to all at the Trust. Recently though we decided that for a little bit of African wild cat enrichment, we would put Assisi into another enclosure and introduce Hooch! Well, she thought she had arrived at Disney World! Instinct hit and Hooch attacked! One strike, one squeak and one dead rat! With tail like a bottle brush and eyes wide open Hooch ran back to her enclosure with the rat in her mouth and great glee in her stride! We are delighted to report that the rat family are in the process of finding new accommodation, with less feline species as neighbours.
CK has graduated to the outside enclosure. Having spent 3 ½ months with Ellen in her house, and taming down very nicely but also putting on a fair bit of weight, we decided that she needed her own kind of company and the stimulation of the outside world. So the first step was to take Coco and Dior out of their enclosure and let CK explore it. After a couple of days in the adjacent enclosure to Munch kin, we then allowed the two to have contact. Munchkin was amazing and very gentle with out showing any aggression. CK was delighted to be out and about and must have shed at least 10% of her body weight with all the exploring! As soon as we were happy that Munchkin and CK were going to become good companions, we returned Coco and Dior back outside into their original enclosure. Coco & Dior are also showing interest in the new addition to the genet family (having gotten acquainted with her scent during their “holiday” in the cottage) although with Coco is seems to be more of a sibling aggression.
On that note, we must mention some of our observations with the use of implants in genet. After Coco’s very bad reaction to the implant we are very concerned with implanting Munchkin, as she is our main breeder. Should there be a problem with the relationship between Munchkin and CK we will try an implant in CK, however we will avoid that at all costs. I fear that there has not been enough research done with the smaller carnivores and therefore the implants can put them at risk.
Rags, of course remains’ the ever gentle, meek and mild dominant male. Without anyone threatening his position, he spends a lot of his time just observing! He did however have a bit of an adverse experience when a swarm of bees took up residence to his bougainvillea hollow. We had to resort to smoking the bees out to convince them that this was not an acceptable idea! He is none the worse for wear after the smokey experience and thankfully the bees have remained away.
This has been our first winter with having our babies in the mobile enclosures and completely outside without any form of artificial heating. They are doing so well! Apart from three of the older hedgehogs having contacted a little bit of ring worm all is well with the hedgehogs. The main breeders, have remained in their in door enclosure, with the artificial heating. I believe that due to the increased temperature, the adults have been able to physically cope with the winter. This is the first winter we have not had to deal with pneumonia’s, snuffles and other winter orientated illness. What a relief, a sick hedgehog is not the world’s easiest animals to treat and return to good health.
The prodigal serval returns in the form of Rafiki. After many concerns of, are we doing the right thing with Rafiki, by bring him back to the Trust and a life in captivity? We are very happy that this has been our choice. Since he has returned, we have seen that his back seems to have been damaged. There is a lump about 2 inches from the base of his tail and his back legs seem to be fairly weak when he moves. Perhaps when Rafiki was out in the wild he was beaten or attacked by humans. This does make sense of the terrible fear that he continues to have at being released. Rafiki has adapted to captive life incredibly well, a lot better than I had anticipated. He is feeding from our hands already and takes great interest if we are doing anything in his enclosure. He also takes great comfort with the knowledge, that there are other animals around him. He spends a lot of his time lying up close to the African Wild Cat enclosures and watching what they are doing. Even when gardening in the enclosure, Rafiki will take great interest in the procedure and try and get involved. With time we hope that we will be able to further tame him so that we are able to interact and play with him a lot more. If we try and chase him, that fear returns and he runs away and hides – so there is still a fair amount of work to be done.
This has been a very hard year for Shenzi. Being a rather particularly sensitive serval without any people skills, it has been hard to get to know her. When she was here with us as a kitten we were able to walk her and interact with her very well. As soon as she became of age, a very different character started to emerge out of her. She wanted her own space and was happiest when left alone. It was for this reason that we decided she would best suit being released. This was not too be, as the current environment is not best suited to any animals being released as far as I am concerned. Before we release a female animal, we also like to know that she can successfully conceive and give birth as well as take care of her kittens.
Shenzi has not as yet past this test. On 2nd June 2009, we were alerted by Bushman Rock that there were kitten sounds coming from Shensi’s enclosure. Ellen and I dropped everything and jumped into the vehicle and headed out to Bushman Rock straight away to assess the situation on the ground. We could see Shenzi with one kitten inside the T-pee. The kitten was calm and quiet which is a sign that it has been fed and is content. Shenzi was at all times very close to the kitten or with the kitten. We were confident that she could manage at this point with taking care of just one kitten. There was one concern which I had and that was the size of the kitten, it was incredible small which could indicate the kitten being premature. By Friday 5th June it was observed that the kitten was dead, but Shenzi was still carrying it around. By the following morning, no carcass could be found. Due to this very sad ordeal that Shenzi has been through we have decided to implant her so that she can remain with the boys in an enlarger enclosure and live a semi-captive life, until such time that Zimbabwe’s wildlife has more protection and stand’s a chance at survival, without man’s intervention.
Bilbo & Gandalf:
The boys are growing up – full of confidence and have become very beautiful serval indeed. Since a bit of enclosure clearing has happened they are more approachable, Bilbo apparently has developed a taste for “Crocs” (plastic slip on shoes) and this is all due to time and effort being put it by Rick Passaportis of Bushman Rock. All the serval are taming down and have become a lot more approachable since Rick has personally got involved, using various methods of bribery which occasionally includes boiled eggs. Due to the current situation here in Zimbabwe, we have all agreed that perhaps now is not the time to be releasing serval. So Rick has very kindly agreed to increase the serval enclosure sizes so that they are able to have more interaction with nature, but still remain protected in a semi-captive environment.
The most important news is that our new Minister of Education, Minister Coltart, has shown an interest in the Kusanganisa program. To be recognised as a potential addition to the national curriculum of a country is very encouraging. To know that the Government is in agreement that the national curriculum has to obtain information regarding our natural flora and fauna is very encouraging.
In the schools, the Kusanganisa program continues despite the challenges presented to the teachers. One of the biggest problems is that the government has not addressed the issue of Teacher’s salaries and this has been pegged at a static nominal amount since January of this year. The Teachers then have to travel to a bank to withdraw their money and may have to queue for hours if not days to get it. Despite this hardship, their enthusiasm for Kusanganisa has not wavered and we salute them for their dedication.
The start of the second term brought some interesting information to light at Nehanda School. First off there was an impromptu essay competition about: “My favourite animal”, initiated by one of the Grade 7 teachers. It yielded some interesting results to say the least – one young man was enamoured with anacondas, especially for their ability to make good boots and the fact that they like to eat people. Although this is exactly the opposite of the attitude we are hoping to cultivate with Kusanganisa, it gave us an indication that it was time to go back to the basics and re-instil some “correct” animal knowledge and conservational principles! It also reminded us that not every human is born to love animals!
In 2008 we donated an older model Apple Mac computer to Nehanda School, much to the delight and excitement of students and teachers alike. However, without the skills to utilize the machine, it may as well be a glorified paper weight. So we decided that this was an ideal opportunity to teach the teachers. We are pleased to say that the first training session for the teachers in basic computers was well received and resulted in some lively discussions. You try to explain why it is called a “mouse” and not a “rat”………………
In the past few recent months, we have been working on a project that is very fundamental to the Trust, and that is the subject of animal welfare in captivity. Welfare of wildlife in Captivity has been one of my main concerns ever since I started working with wildlife. If the world was perfect, I would like to only see wild animals living as their name states in the wild. However, this is not likely to ever happen and therefore regulations and policies must be put in place where ever there are institutions who have wildlife, Zimbabwe being no exception. Our last newsletter focused on our first training course with the Department of National Parks personal. I would just like to once again say a huge thank you to both Roxy Danckwerts who allowed us the privilege of holding the course at her wildlife sanctuary, and to both Mr Chadenga and Mr Inhidza, of National Parks for supporting the initiative and believing that this project is of paramount importance to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe remains an every changing environment. One, can never be sure what they are going to wake up too, each and every morning. However, we are proud to be part of this country, her wildlife and hopefully the rebuilding of an industry that once flourished – wildlife! If it were not for like minded people, such as yourselves who have supported us through thick and thin, we would most certainly not be able to battle forward with a positive outlook and hope in our hearts. Our most sincere thank you, to you our sponsors.