This weekend I was privileged enough to have the most amazing encounter with an African clawless otter! There truly are no words that can explain the feeling I had, when faced nose to muzzle, with Ollie the otter! We were contacted a week ago, with regards to Ollie, by Anthea the lady who had confiscated him from poachers on the side of the road, in the area where she lives. The poachers I am sure had every intention of eating Ollie, as they had already killed and eaten his mother. Thankfully, due to Derek and Anthea’s intervention, Ollie’s fate was not to be that of his mother, and he moved in and become part of their family.
We arrived on Sunday morning to the home of both Derek and Anthea and their youngest adopted offspring: Ollie. It has to be said I was not totally sure what to expect. Having heard numerous horror stories regarding otters that had been hand raised, such as; “they are aggressive and are inclined to bite as they start to get older, messy and always on the move”, I was rather wary of what I might encounter. Arriving at the family’s home and walking to the veranda there was no sight or sound of the potential vicious beast called Ollie. We were then casually informed that he was sleeping, and it was difficult to wake up the sleepy otter! So that gave us all time to have some tea and learn more about Ollie’s story from his adoptive family. Whilst sitting and listening to this account, it all sounded so familiar. Zimbabwe has unintentionally developed isolated pockets that are life-saving sanctuaries for these animals. However, they cannot be returned to the wild or rehabilitated without threat, because the “safe areas” are now surrounded by the settlers, new farmers and or war vets, who have no understanding as far as the wildlife is concerned. Until there is more education and consideration for wildlife, within the world of rural Zimbabwe, I personally do not believe that we can risk releasing these orphaned animals to a life where they will relentlessly have to dodge snares and packs of rural dogs. With this being said, a new problem has been developing over the past nine years. “What do we do with these orphans who would normally be raised by the farmer and then returned into the area whence they came?” The numbers of all these species of animals are under threat. With more encroachment of people into what used to be wild spaces, it is a huge concern indeed. Right now I believe we have to facilitate keeping these orphans safe and where possible develop pairs so that in time we can have viable non related pairs who will be ready to breed.
These thoughts were banished from my mind, as soon as I laid eyes on Ollie. Lolloping, along the ground, sniffing this and that, came the most beautiful mammal I had seen! Oh his fur was unbelievable to touch and those eyes – wicked with a sense of humour. I was in love! Once woken, by his human sibling, Colin, Ollie came running around to the veranda. Here in front of me was this silky, shining beautiful otter. He was most certainly not shy and was very keen to jump up onto my lap and be loved. Of course all you wanted to do was hug and kiss this amazing creature, just to be in the company of an animal such as this was a privilege, so to be able to interact with him was out of this world. You could not get enough of him, he did not sit still for a minute, and nothing seemed to be safe from his inquisitive presence.
Working with animals, you are able to see many interesting and moving things. However, for me, I feel complete when a wild animal is returned to an environment which is natural and where they belong. After getting to know Ollie, we all took a drive to the dam where it is hoped that Ollie will learn to develop his skills as an otter and get fit or fitter! We jumped out of the vehicle and went towards the water. Ollie sniffing the air and wondering what all this exercise was about! Then he spotted the water and knew where he was going. As he reached the waters edge, he just placed his head under the water and the rest of his body followed. It was like watching ballet, so graceful, silent and effortless. As he dove towards the bottom of the dam, air bubbles emerged allowing us to follow his tracks. I could have stayed with him for ever, just being with this animal, who belonged in the water. At first he seemed nervous of all the bits and pieces which he had not yet been introduced to. But as the time went by and he swam and swam, his fears disappeared and were, replaced by confidence which allowed him to travel further and further under water.
This experience with Ollie touched my soul and I did not want the day to end. But like most things, it had to as we had orphan hoglets and steenboks awaiting their next fed. On the way home I deliberated as to what were the best options for Ollie.
As we got home, there were two baby steenboks ready and hungry for their next bottom of milk. Bramble and Blue Bell (Marlene) had been orphaned in two separate parts of the country. Bramble was from the Darwendale area, not too far from Ollie’s origins and Blue Bell had come from Goromonzi area. The Swales had adopted Bramble from a very early age and had done an amazing job of raising him. However they also faced the dilemma, of what was the best thing to do for Brambles future? Steenbok are one of the smallest antelope in Zimbabwe and not often seen. When you see just how tiny they are with their toothpick legs, you have to wonder how on earth they survive the wild under any circumstance let alone the current situation here in Zimbabwe. Blue Bell (Marlene) had been adopted by the Passiportis’s and Rick had been a diligent father getting up to feed Blue Bell (Marlene) through out the nights. On hearing that there was a male and female, we felt that this was the perfect opportunity to put the two orphans together from an early age so that as they grow up together, and in time they could develop into a breeding pair. Currently both Bramble and Blue Bell (Marlene) are resident here at the centre.
Our other orphans were five day old hoglets. Yes those hedgehogs have been busy! A litter of six were born and for most of the day they remain intact and the mother seemed to be doing what was required of her. Then around early afternoon, when checking on her we found her eating one of her babies. We removed her immediately in the hope that this might just stop her from eating anymore. Sadly, when we placed her back with the babies a little later, nothing had changed and she tried to eat another hoglet. Oddly enough it was not the runt of the litter that she tried to eat. So now we were faced with a very tough decision; allowing her to do what she felt necessary to do – which was to eat her babies or to remove them. Not being able to let her eat the babies, we removed them and started raising them. After three days we realised that the babies obviously had a problem which the mother had detected hence wanting to eat them. All babies died over the course of the next three days, even with our best efforts to try and rear them.
We hope that the rains have arrived in Zimbabwe, so normally with the rains the orphans occur. We will keep you up to date with the goings on of the orphans here at the Trust. Once again thank you the reader who are our supporters and the people who believe in our efforts. We hugely appreciate all the support and could not continue without it.
For those of you who can’t get enough of orphan animals – here is an orphan bushbaby (Greater Galago) who passed through the trust briefly whilst moving from rescuers to his new adoptive family……