Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Easy Rider

Near Swakopmund the sand dunes come down right to the sea. This is the Hollywood desert--dune after dune of sugary sand with very little vegetation.

On the second morning at Swakopmund, Marieta, her two granddaughters (Morgan 12, Nica 6) and I went quad biking on the dunes. It was great fun, even if there weren't animals involved. Here's a picture of me coming down one of the higher dunes. Believe me, it was steeper than it looks here. One young woman who rode with us went down too fast, flipped off it, and landed hard. The sand is forgiving, though, so she only went away with sore ribs and a bit of disgrace.

We rode for about three hours, the guided stopping occasionally to show us interesting things in the desert--remnants of tribal grass houses, fossilized animal prints on a mud flat, a burial ground with some skeletons exposed. He made us eat things in the desert that were edible (but no good, although if you were starving, I guess they would taste better), and he showed us where we could find water under the sand. Interesting stuff!

Back on Harnas, we've had the addition of two jackal pups--named Jack and Jill. They arrived from a man who had rescued them and kept them as pets. They even slept in his bed. So they're exceedingly tame, just like puppies.

These are specifically Black-backed Jackals--found throughout southern Africa. They don't get very big--no more than 25 pounds or 12 kg when they're fully grown. They're scavengers and farmers don't like them because they eat their lambs, and so they're often shot just for existing.

It's a bad rap, though, because mostly jackals eat small ground mammals--squirrels, rats, mice--and keep those populations in check. Also, they eat fruit and insects. There's even a berry that's called Jackal Berry because they love it.

Jack and Jill came to us when the owner decided they needed a more natural habitat--although by that time they were too tame to be let back into the wild. So after a few days quarantine to make sure they were healthy, Marieta released them in the garden area where they play with people, sniff everything (they have an acute sense of smell), and sneak looks at the vervet monkeys and baboons that are in the enclosures lining the garden.

If you approach Jack, he immediately rolls over as if to ask, "While you're here, would you mind rubbing my belly?" Jill is a little more wary, but she, too, loves to be stroked. They're soft and sweet, but the teeth are quite sharp--and like puppies, they love to chew.

They've become an immediate favorite, and no one who comes into the garden area can resist their charms. Here they are with Kate, a volunteer from the UK who is also a vet nurse.

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