Chicken thieves

Stealing Cleo’s dog food

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Free range girls

After one and a half months of getting used to their new home Betty and the girls were ready to go free range this weekend.  I had been dreading this because when I first got them they escaped and it took ages and a lot of trouble to get them back into their cage.

I was assured by Alf who gave me the chickens that after a month they would have settled down and I would not have a problem getting them back into their cage.  So early on Saturday morning I released them into the wild to go foraging.

I noticed that they are no longer afraid of me and that they may even like me a bit now.  In fact they come when I call and I can get them to follow me.  I even took them to the compost heap to go scratching for worms. They followed me all in a row while I made chicken noises and scratching sounds.

Jackie the chicken whisperer 🙂

Come sundown they walked nicely into their cage for me and hopped up onto their perch.  I will be letting them out now when I am at home.  Although Cleo just watches them and has made no moves to chase them she does get very jealous when I talk to them.  I think if I leave her alone with them when I go out she may just try to show them who is boss.

Meet Betty and the girls

That’s them – I am the proud owner of my first 4 hens.  Betty is the black one, and the girls are the rest 🙂 – I am starting to see differences in the girls but not enough to give them each a name yet.  They shout a lot when I go into their coop (made out of recycled materials) and I don’t think they like me much yet.  I hope this changes.

They like sitting up on their perch like this, and looking out into the bush

and this is their home.  I have stitched shade cloth over the entire cage to keep it cool and to keep out the snakes.

Now I just have to wait and see if they start laying eggs.

Goodbye sweet beast…

Yesterday one of the owners here had to euthanize a young female wildebeest (gnu).  She had been caught in two snares and was suffering terribly.  When these things happen I get so mad because it is so cruel, and then I think of the poor labourers who set these snares because they get paid so badly they can’t buy food.  I feel pulled between the two.  I wish we had some decent solutions to these problems here.  All we can do is continuously sweep for snares and try to assist the neighbouring labourers as much as we can with extra work to help them out financially.

After she was shot,  the owner gave the animal to our labourer to cut up and use for meat so at least nothing is wasted.

Last night it was so hot here that I left my cottage door open to get some movement of air. At around midnight I heard Cleo chomping something behind me and I turned to see her gnawing on a thickish branch of a tree.  This is so out of her nature that I got up and turned the light on to find half a wildebeest leg on my carpet!  She had obviously found where the labourer had dumped the entrails for jackals and other animals to eat.  Yeugh!

Arachnophobia – Carlé’s story

It was only when Carlé and her family came to visit Jackal’s Den that I found out that she had a severe case of arachnophobia. I mentioned to her mother that our local reptile park had programs during the holidays to help people cope with their phobias and she decided that it was time for Carlé and her sisters to attend the workshop.

Carlé understandably was really not keen to go but we persisted and she agreed as long as she would not be forced to look, see, touch or experience spiders in any way. We agreed and hoped that the folk at Khamai Reptile Park would have a plan.

When we got there we were greeted by Daniel and Donald who assured Carlé that she would never have to do anything that she did not want to do.  They started to talk to her about spiders and which ones are dangerous to us here in South Africa. Naturally she wanted to know what the dangerous ones looked like so she could identify them if ever she came across them. Daniel showed them to her (they were in glass cages so Carlé felt safe.)  We were then taken to see the reptiles and were allowed to hold what ever we liked. Carlé has a fondness for bearded dragons etc. so she was put at ease with these creatures.

and her sisters got to play too

The dragon in the picture above has a tumour on it’s leg – it was handed in at the park in this condition. As soon as the tumour gets too large, the folk at the reptile park will remove it surgically.

We were then taken to a patch of shady lawn at the park and seated to hear more about spiders. They showed  us casings of baboon spiders (shedded skins) which look exactly like the spider itself except a small portion of the back is missing where the spider emerged. We were allowed to touch and feel although Carlé held back. She did manage to watch us play with a baboon spider though.

We were all ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’ after the experience because it is quite a special moment  when you hold one of these creatures. They are so soft and gentle and oh-so-light on their tippy toes across your skin. (I know many of you won’t believe this because I didn’t until I picked up the nerve to hold one – now I can’t get enough)

Then we went off to feed the chameleons

and play with the baby tortoises

It was at this point that Carlé mentioned to Daniel that she may just like to try to touch the spider so he took her back inside and told her that he would  just let her feel what the spider’s feet felt like.  Daniel had so much patience with us and with Carlé – never pushing her beyond what she was ready for.

You can see by the way that Carlé is sitting that she is quite nervous still.  I will let the following sequence of pictures tell the rest of the story.

The staff at Khamai Reptile Park were absolutely amazing with vast amounts of interesting information and tons of patience with the children. These are the folk who worked with me to get me over my snake phobia over two years ago. (Now go back and look at the last few pictures again, this time looking into the glass window behind Carlé’s head)

See – I am cured too 🙂

And now Carlé wants her own tarantula!

(photos kindly taken and provided by Ronney Reece and Erika Green)

Update from the middle of nowhere

School is finally over for the Bean after a month of exams. It’s been a long hard year for her and I am so glad that I was able to stop working at the fruit packhouse to give us more time at home to get the school year done. Now it’s the nerve-wracking wait for her final results at the end of December.  Hopefully she will be off to university in Pretoria next year.

We are now holed up on the farm – only venturing in to town when we run out of supplies or for a few social occasions – this is how I want it to be. Things are really starting to come together for me now.  Bookings are rolling in for Jackal’s Den, I am busy on the farm from sunrise to sunset, loving every moment, and I have orders for paintings lined up well into next year.

With regards to the patio, the retaining wall is built

and the floor now filled in with rocks and soil

All I need now are the creepers which I hope to buy next week and then I will be making paving blocks to cover the floor area soon. I am also going to plant some lawn around this area to green it up a bit.  It’s been so much fun doing this project.

The Bean’s roof is still not done.  A job that was supposed to take 5 days is now on 21 days. Hopefully it will be finished by Friday when we leave for Johannesburg to visit our family and attend my sons wedding.

This is my current painting project which I am painting for a commissioned order. Still a long way to go on this too.

and finally here is a picture of our baby Savannah.

She has settled in very well. Cleo and Savannah have a strange relationship – sneaking up on each other when they think no one is watching to get a good sniff. So far there have been no fights or dramatic chase scenes – rather they respect each others boundaries mostly and give each other a wide berth (although this seems to be narrowing as they get used to each other).  Savannah, although very loving, is wild in the sense that she is very nocturnal. Much more so than Fred was. She sleeps solidly all day waking as the sun sets and then she is off out into the bush for the night. She eats at home but still catches mice and squirrels most evenings. We even got a bat as a present last week. She does not like being inside and only ventures in if there is a rain storm. Otherwise her favorite daytime haunt is our veranda where she has set up a type of nest in some hessian on a little wall where she sleeps.

While we are away for the next two weeks some friends of ours will be living at Jackal’s Den, having a well deserved break and feeding Savannah.  I hope Cleo will be able to travel with us as she won’t really cope well away from me, although I still need to clear this with my family where we are staying.  I hope she will be able to come but if she can’t my friends are the best folk to look after her.

I will be back in two weeks. Happy blogging 🙂

African cats and our new friend Savannah.

All of you will know about the big cats found in our area as they are popular animals to search for when on safari.  Lion, cheetah and leopard are wonderful finds when looking for animals in our surrounding game reserves.

Of the three, lion and cheetah are found in game reserves only and do not wander about freely in South Africa. Leopard are still found outside of reserves and are often treated as the enemy by farmers when their cattle, sheep and chicken are eaten by wandering leopard. There have been sightings of leopard on our farm although I have only seen their spoor.

Lesser known cats are fantastic to sight on safari. There are 7 species of wild cats found in South Africa. Four of these are the smaller cats. These cats are found widely across the country outside of game reserves. Most are nocturnal and are difficult to spot so when one does, it is like an extra special treat. They are the caracal, serval, African wildcat and the black-footed cat.  We have spotted the caracal and serval on our game farm.

A big problem in our area is of domesticated cats interbreeding with the wild cats especially the African wildcat. For this reason, housing estates in the bush usually have rules not allowing residents to keep pet domestic cats.  Hoedspruit however does have a problem with stray domestic cats as do most other cities and towns in the world.  We have an active group in town who catch stray cats and spay and neuter them before releasing them again.  This helps stop the interbreeding.  I have found a few spots in town when stray cats seem to hang out. One spot is at one of our local shopping centers.

This week when I came out of the shop I saw a beautiful kitten lying next to a pillar asking for tickles from all the passers-by.  As a cat lover I could not resist so I spent a few minutes with her tickling and talking to her.  When I got to my car I looked down and she had followed me across the parking lot.  I picked her up and showed her to Cleo (our dog) who was waiting with the Bean at the car.  The cat and Cleo just ignored each other. I looked at the Bean and she looked at me and we both knew that this kitten now had a new home.  I went back into the shopping center to check if anyone knew who the cat belonged to or if it was one of the strays.  They said it was a stray and that we were welcome to take her home.

Our new member of the family has settled in well. She is a small cat – I am not sure if she is still young or is naturally small boned. The more I watched her wander about, the more I thought that she had a slightly strange build and manner of walking, and then I remembered about the interbreeding with wild cats.  After looking up more information I am convinced that we have a tame African wildcat on our hands. Whether she has domestic cat blood in her veins is still unclear although probable. She has been spayed and I assume it was done by our local cat charity. We have named her Savannah Lybica.

This is a picture of an African wildcat.

DISTRIBUTION

The African Wildcat is widespread in Africa,  found also in the Middle East, but excluding the Sahara and rainforests.

HISTORY

African Wildcats diverged from the other Wildcat subspecies about 131,000 years ago. Some individuals were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, which are the ancestors of the domestic cat. Remains of domesticated wildcats have been included in human burials as far back as 9,500 years ago in Cyprus.

SUBSPECIES of WILDCAT

  • Felis silvestris lybica – African Wildcat
  • Felis silvestris silvestris – European Wildcat
  • Felis silvestris ornata – Asiatic Wildcat

SIZE

The African Wildcat is a subspecies of the Wildcat (Felis silvestris) and is similar in size to domestic cats. In fact the African Wildcat is the ancestor of domestic cats.

NAME

The African Wildcat is also known as the Desert Cat, African Desert Cat or simply Wildcat. In Afrikaans (South Africa) vaalboskat means grey bush cat.

IDENTIFICATION

The African Wildcat looks similar to a short-haired domestic tabby cat, but has reddish colouring on the back of the ears, over its abdomen and on the back of its hind legs.

In investigating the features of the wild cat I see that Savannah has most of them.

  • Due to the diversity of habitats where this cat occurs, there is a wide variation in colour. In the drier habitats and in the grasslands the colouring is shades of light brown, whereas in the wetter, forested areas, the colouring is grayer and darker.
  • The coat has faint vertical stripes on the body, with dark rings on the legs as well as on the black-tipped tail.
  • The chin and throat are white and the chest is usually paler than rest of body.
  • There is a distinctive reddish colouring on the belly, backs of the ears and hind legs.
  • The feet are jet black underneath.
The following pictures are of Savannah.
If anyone has more knowledge of these cats I would love to hear their opinion.
A blogger friend, Lisa, from ‘Notes from Africa’ was lucky enough to spot these cats in the wild and photograph them on one of her trips to the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park. She wrote about her experience which you can read here.  Her photos are really beautiful and the cats are so much like Savannah, especially the kitten. Please take a look at her post and tell me if you think Savannah Lybica is an African wildcat.

Answering your questions

A few days ago I asked you if you had any questions about my life in the bush, and today I will be answering them.

The first question came from Jocelyn from O Mighty Crisis (and from Quin)

What foods do you wish you could have easy access to…but don’t?  What do you crave?

Although our home is quite isolated, we are about 23 km’s from the nearest town. In town there are two national chain supermarkets which carry most products that we need on a daily basis although sometimes our choice is limited. For instance, it took us some persuading to get the supermarket to stock my daughters favorite breakfast cereal.  Before that, we got people to bring some to us when they came to visit.  She still wants another variety too but I’m not sure if it is still being sold in South Africa (Fruit Loops?)

Things like tahini, that I need to make my own humus, is not available, so a couple of us from our town place orders when someone is going to a city.  Other things we crave sometimes are Kentucky Fried Chicken and Sushi (we can get a limited amount at one of our restaurants on a Friday evening only – and then you have no choice).

 

 (drool!)

I think because there are quite a few luxury international safari lodges in the area, the shops tend to stock most of what we need.  Besides food though, we have a very limited choice when buying shoes and clothes and prefer to drive a few hours to do that kind of shopping.  There are also no fabric stores, movie cinemas, home decor stores, or book stores, and we don’t have a functioning fire station (a few homes burned to the ground recently) or a decent hospital.

The second question came from Greg from Greg’s World

What is a legavaan?

Well Greg, it’s kinda like a huge lizard. (rock monitor)

(image from here)

(Varanus albigularis),  the legavaan or white-throated monitor, is a species of monitor lizard found in southern Africa. It is the second longest lizard found on the continent of Africa and the heaviest bodied.

Last week Cleo, my dog, had a run in with one at the pool. She barked at it and grabbed it in  her mouth and tossed it into the air until I called her off.  The legavaan didn’t seem to care much but moved off eventually.  Cleo is very lucky that it did not hurt her.

Question 3 comes from Sweffling from Stopping by woods

Which animal/s do you have the most difficulty keeping out of the house and allied to that, which animals wish to come in and share your house during the winter?

Luckily, because we have extremely mild winters, most animals are quite happy to stay away from human habitation in our area.  The creatures that give me most problems are squirrels because they like to make their homes in our thatch roofs. We have to regularly rescue birds that have flown inside and release them and on a couple of occasions have had to remove snakes from our cottages and relocate them. So far we have not had any inquisitive mammals who would like to move in (thank goodness).  On the insect front, it’s really another story. They ALL want to live with us and it’s an ongoing battle to keep our cottages reasonably insect free without resorting to poisons.  I must admit that even although I am considered a greenie, and I save and release spiders,  – cockroaches, flies, mosquitos and ants get sprayed.

My veggie garden on the other hand gets many visits from all types of buck, porcupines and hippos.

Question 4 is from Mark of The Idiot Speaketh

What is the strangest ANIMAL or creature that you have found taking a secret dip in your pool?

Now I know Mark is longing to hear about gorillas, and constantly teases me about them, we DO NOT have gorillas running wild in South Africa.  The strangest thing I have found in the pool is a long extremely thin worm like creature that wriggles and squirms its way across the surface of the pool. It is so thin that it almost looks like a hair and is a few inches in length.  I have yet to find out what it is.

Other creatures we fish out of the pool are bees, frogs (lots of frogs), huge beetles, grasshoppers and unfortunately once a drowned snake.  The larger animals on the game reserve don’t even come to drink the water from our pool.  They are fussy and I think prefer chlorine-free that they get from the river and watering holes.

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I hope you have all learned a little more about us and our home.  If you have any more questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll do another post like this if necessary.