Archive for November, 2009

Wild about wildlife

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I can’t quite work out why AA Gill would want to tell everyone that he’d killed a baboon to find out how it felt, but I have met quite a few people who would like to kill a baboon.

In the summer, when we stayed in the winelands of the Western Cape we took the mountain road above Franschhoek , came round a bend and almost immediately into a troupe of baboons sitting in trees, gambolling across the road and playing on the verges. We were completely mesmerised – I have never been so close to wild animals and there was a complete family, the dominant male sitting in a tree, the females with babies clinging to their backs or feeding. We turned off the engine, locked the doors and watched the troupe for about 20 minutes, fascinated and thrilled.


The next day we went to wine tastings at the farms. At the first one, the dogs rushed to greet us. The owner’s wife told us that the dogs had to be kept in at night because the baboons will attack them if they get the chance. Everyone we spoke to about the baboons talked of their destructive nature, their tusks and their size. They are a protected species but they are also dangerous. I suspect the wine farmers of the Cape might be happy if there were more AA Gill’s visiting.

The next time I saw wild animals up close was in the game reserve. We set out with the game warden, Stu in the dawn light. It was the tail end of winter and bit nippy but nonetheless I felt it wasn’t quite right to start off with a blanket and hot water bottle. On the other hand, as we got higher into the hills it was quite welcome.

The game wardens are the stars of the reserves. And they fill hot water bottles and provide hot coffee for the journey too. His knowledge of the terrain and the wildlife was intimate and his love of both was evident.

The most thrilling for me was seeing a giraffe outlined against the dawn sky of Africa. Giraffes chew the cud. This beautiful creature stood virtually unmoving, chewing and our warden told us to watch for the ripple of the food as it was regurgitated up that long neck

Stu had no sentimentality about the need to control the baboons. Dangerous creatures to be treated with caution. He spoke almost tenderly about the elephant family he took us to see – rescued from Zimbabwe and re-homed along with their Zimbabwean handlers,
but he also talked about the destruction the elephants could cause to the villages and to the people who live there and the crops. At the time there was an uproar in Britain because Australian game wardens had taken to small aircraft to shoot camels which were causing widescale damage. Apparently this is the best way to cull large animals, accurate and humane. Stu told us there are tracking devices which locate the animals, transmit that information to the hunters so the plane can find them and dispatch them cleanly. Culling elephants, he told us, was “not nice”. They must kill a whole family as elephants don’t survive well outside that unit. And then, there has to be a disposal of the bodies, big bodies.

I don’t think I’m sentimental about animals but the truth is that I am hypocritically squeamish. I think grey squirrels are a pest but I doubt I could kill one myself – any more than I could kill a baboon.