Camp Wildlife

We are resting up after our brake problem adventure which has taken 3 days to sort, a long 5 hour and cautious drive with only 3 working brakes and a lot of waiting around in car workshops. So we’ve treated ourselves to a chalet with a proper bed, toilet you can sit on and an electric kettle. Bliss. Only problem is the mosquitoes, which are worse in the chalet than in the tent, where it’s fairly easy to keep them out. We’ve become obsessed with the little buggers. Angela’s usual ‘live and let live’ approach to wildlife goes completely out the window and she wonders round with a can of ‘Doom’ in hand to zap them. There’s little worse than that high pitched whizzing next to your ear in the middle of the night, knowing that they’re eating you alive. The other favourite method of dispatch is the ‘pants of doom’ which are just the right weight and size to get a well aimed shot in. Only problem is the streak of blood (probably ours!) left on the wall. I mean, really, is there any point to mosquitoes?

We had a Solifuge in the chalet the other evening. A sort of cross between a scorpion and spider, known as Camel Spiders or Wind Scorpions, they are actually neither and apparently quite harmless, although don’t look it and can get pretty big. Fortunately this was only a couple of inches long but as you can imagine we didn’t really want it in the chalet. It was pretty quick and took a fair bit of chasing round (and a broken glass) before we caught it and put it outside.

Most of the other wildlife is welcome. At each campsite there’s been a resident bird or two that have no fear of us and come right up under your feet. The odd thing is that it’s been a different species at each site. Mostly they’re small birds, a Cape Robin-chat at Kleinmond, a Cape Wagtail at Dwarskersbos and a White-browed Weaver Sparrow here in Upington. At Tankwa Karoo a bird came flying past us into camp like a rugby ball, landing with little more dignity than a tackled rugby player. Turned out to be a Cape Spurfowl who was obviously used to and expecting to be fed. She was then joined by her family. You are not allowed to feed the animals in the National Parks. “Not even the smallest bird…” say the rules. Bad Angela.

At the same site we spent some time watching a family of Striped Mice and a few Karoo Bush-rats (which looks more like a vole than a rat) clambering around a Camel-thorn bush to get at the orange pom-pom flowers on the tips of the supple but very spikey branches. They were utterly charming, although if someone had told us that the camp was infested with mice and rats…

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Striped Mouse foraging on Camel-thorn flowers

At Kleinmond, on the coast south-east of Cape Town, the camp was regularly patrolled by a Grey Mongoose. Far too active and quick to get a photo but it came within a few metres of us.

Probably our favourite small mammal encounter was on a long and exhausting walk up a gorge at a place called Beaverlac in the Cederberg. Fi Fi, this is one for you. Underneath a rock ledge we found an Elephant Shrew. It was quite unafraid and we spent ages watching it and trying to get a picture in the poor light. Its long nose seems to act completely independently of the rest of its body, twitching in all sorts of directions. Soooo cute. Wonder if they make good pets?….

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Enjoying a well-needed cold dip on our Beaverlac walk

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Cape Rock Elephant Shrew

And this morning we walked out of the chalet to find a large tortoise by the car. About 15 inches long, it must have been at least 50 years old. When it saw us, rather than dive into its shell like most of them have done, it came towards us to have its head scratched! It climbed up onto the patio stretching its neck up to us. It specially seemed to like Gareth and sat as he gently stroked its neck. We put some water down which it lapped up and then cut up some strips of bell pepper which was the most vegetarian thing we could muster for it. As they feed the Springbok which are enclosed in the campsite here we didn’t think it would be too bad to feed him/her. It had a bit of a slow start, not sure about this new form of food, and then got stuck in, even asking for more. Gareth hand fed it too. Amazing, What a great start to the day.

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Tortoise coming for breakfast

Perhaps the most annoying animals of our trip so far (apart from the mosquitoes) have been the Guinea Fowl. They really are one of the most irritating creatures you could come across. Angela has a long-standing dislike of them from a time spent working at a country park which had some and our recent experience has only served to deepen that dislike. When they are startled by something they chase around like headless chickens making the loudest and most irritating squawking noises that goes on and on and makes you want to shoot them. And they get startled a lot. I mean really a lot. And then, to cap it off, they come and roost in the tree above your tent and spend half an hour squawking at their mates across the campsite. Eventually they settle down (unless something startles them…) until about 5am when it starts all over again. To give them their dues, they did give us some entertainment. At Beaverlac there was obviously an amorous male amongst them, which spent all afternoon chasing the females, who were far less interested in him than he was in them. A line of birds would speed back and forth across the campsite, blue heads held high and legs doing ten to the dozen, chased by the male just like a scene from Benny Hill. It did make us laugh but was not enough to redeem them in our eyes. They do say revenge is a dish best served cold, or in this case warm – we have decided what we are having for Christmas dinner… They may be irritating but they taste damn good… Smile

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