Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Another Goodbye

When I began this trip,the days stretched out in front of me forever, and it seemed impossible I could fill all those hours. Yet here it is, seemingly a blink later, and I'm walking around Harnas saying goodbye once more to the animals I love.

I began with Zion and Trust. Trust still won't come to the fence--blames me for the shock he got--but he comes close and makes noises. Zion came right to the fence and let me scratch him. Any day that starts with petting a lion is going to be a good one.

I spent the morning with Koema, introducing him to new volunteers so that he'll have people to love him once I'm gone. There are some good people here now, and although it breaks my heart, I turn his care over to them with trust. There will be some tears, though, when I kiss him for the last time.

Koema and his soccer ball
Carolyn and two of her vol friends came by the garden and played with Koema. They get to do pretty much what they want on their last day. They said what they really wanted was to see the tiny cheetah babies. (Marieta has been keeping them pretty tight, but they knew I had access.) I told them they had come to the right person and took them into Marieta's kitchen, let them see and touch the babies, and take pictures. I think they enjoyed it. I've tried to stay out of Carolyn's way and let her have the authentic Harnas experience, but once in a while, it's nice to use my position to do something good for her. I hope she's had a great time, and I hope she'll remember these weeks for the rest of her life. Harnas had a huge impact on me, and many volunteers come to me and tell me the same. They thank me for the book. It means so much to me. That's what I did it for--to spread the word and spirit of Harnas.

Now before I start yelling Hallelujah, let me continue with my day. After lunch I took two volunteers who had approached me yesterday out to see Atheno. They had heard about him on a German TV program, but didn't know where his enclosure was or how to approach him. I took them out, called for him, and like the star he is, he came strolling out of the grass purring. He stayed with us for about 30 minutes and let them take pictures, cuddle up, and pet him. I think they'll be back.

It's been a good day. I know I'll come back some day--don't know when yet, but in the back of my mind, I'm thinking maybe Christmas of next year. I have to have some kind of goal to make it back so that the depression of returning to real life isn't so overwhelming. I feel more at home here than I do in my so-called real life. There are no politics, stresses, or race riots here. I know it's a bubble, but it's a good one. I wish it would never end. But I also wish I could bring you all here and introduce you to my babies. I wish we could all sit around in the grass, playing with cheetahs during the days--and drink wine while we listened to the lions roar at night. BB

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Little of This, A Little of That

Some news from around the farm: Coco, the baboon pictured as a baby with me below in 2010 has grown up and found she'd rather live with people than with other baboons. Every day she climbs a tree and jumps out of her enclosure and can be found wandering around by the lapa, knocking on Marieta's kitchen window, or peeking into the kitchen looking for a handout. She's about the size of a border collie and is rather polite. But she is, after all, a baboon, and some people don't feel comfortable looking up from their lunch to find a full grown baboon sitting next to them.

When I was here for three months at the beginning of 2010, Coco slept with me each night and we became close. I don't know that she remembers me now. She usually approaches me, and I hand her one of the peanuts I always carry with me to feed various animals. She accepts it gratefully and politely, but I don't' see any light of recognition in her eyes. She doesn't bite me, though, so I'm happy with our relationship. Marieta is working on a solution to this daily problem.

Second item: Murray the Warthog (aka Happy Meal) has a gaping wound in his hind end. It just showed up. No one knows if a dog attacked him, he got himself caught on a wire, or Missy Jo the Leopard reached through her fence and snagged him. But it looks gory. The volunteers who are part of the veterinary program here are working with him. I feel so sorry for him. He's such a sweetie. So I have been spending some time on the lawn with him, allowing him to get warthog spit all over my pants. He seems to enjoy it.

Third, we're introducing Koema, the 10-week old cheetah, to Sesa and Sesadi, the 10-day old cheetahs. Slowly. We let him sniff them so when they're ready to be playmates, he'll be used to them. Today, he got a good whiff of them and then started to lick them. Good sign.

Finally, Marty, Kaatje, and I talked Marieta into a walk this afternoon to see all the lions. We took the dogs--five of them. Most of them grew up with lions and are just vaguely disturbed when the lions rush the fence aggressively. But one of them, Monster, (a black lab/dachshund mix--don't ask how that happened, we don't know), had never really had an encounter with a full grown lion, let alone three of them rushing the fence. He took off running and disappeared into the bush. I''m sure he'll find his way home, but there is the slightest chance he's in Botswana by now. Poor baby. He may never be the same. We laughed till we cried. (Don't think I'm cruel. I'm going to check on him now.) BB

Friday, July 8, 2016

I Would Have Made a Terrible Mother

So Kaatje and I, the two  major caretakers of Koema, the baby cheetah, realized tonight over a glass of wine, that we were spoiling our baby cheetah. We're both covered--hands, arms, faces (yes, faces)--with cheetah scratches and love bites. This has gotten out of hand. We bleed. We scar. We are embarrassed. Tomorrow we start with more discipline and more dominance.

Koema loves us. He licks us and plays with us and purrs and is generally a wonderful 9-week old cheetah. But he also takes advantage of us. Lick once, bite twice. Pounce with kisses and then scratches. We're both a mess.

So tomorrow the Terror of Harnas will be met with a united front against his terrorism. We are speaking, moving, and disciplining in a dominant way. Sure, it's cute now when he's a ten pound bundle of adorableness, but what will it be like when he's 150 pounds of pure adult cheetah. Tomorrow. The Day.

Or so I think. It will be a battle of wills, I'm sure, but the winner is yet to be determined. He is, as you can see, pretty cute.

On another note: Carolyn is well and back to work. She looks like a new (or the old) woman. It makes me so happy.

On yet another note: today is my birthday. I wasn't going to tell anyone and just enjoy the day, but curses to the internet. Apparently, Facebook has announced my secret. But that's okay. I spent the day spending time with my favorite animals--the ones that are deep in my heart. First thing, a visit to two lions who were cubs when I was first a volunteer in 2007, Zion and Trust. Trust is still mad at me for what happened last week. We were visiting at the gate. They were making gurgling noises and I was petting them, when Trust got too close to the side fence and got zapped by electricity. Now he comes when I call but then turns his back on me and refuses to let me pet him. Zion seems to sense the tension. He lets me pet him, but then he growls and paws at the ground. It's a conflict I'm working on. He blames me, it's clear, but I'm determined to convince him the shock was not my idea.

Then I spent time with Pride and her cubs, Atheno, and  of course, the new terrorist Koema. In between I did errands for Marieta and fed many of the cheetahs that the volunteers are not currently allowed to have contact with. It was a full day. At six, I met with Marty and Kaatje for a glass of wine and then dinner--and despite my best effort, the staff knew it was my birthday. I had a candied pear with cream for dessert. Perfect. BB

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Bug Going Around

The past two days have been hard. I think I mentioned that there was a stomach bug going around with both the volunteers and the animals. It's unusual that people and animals transfer a disease, but it's been happening. Yesterday morning my goddaughter Carolyn got it. I guess it was inevitable since she's living in such close quarters with so many others, many of whom are sick, but it broke my heart. I took her tea and bread and ginger ale, but she has to get through it herself. And it's so hard to be away from home when you're sick. I ache for her.

Today she's doing a bit better--no more throwing up. (I"m sure she loves the fact that her physical symptoms are part of my blog, but that's what being a star is all about--no more privacy.) Anyway, she's keeping water down, but she wants to stay one more day in bed. I worry about her constantly and run down to the volunteer village as often as I can. I don't know how you parents do it. Worry is exhausting.

The animals, too, have suffered. One of the year-old cheetahs name Inbar came down with diarrhea yesterday and was rush to the vet, along with a baby baboon named Iggy. The vet said it's the same thing that has killed two other animals. The two are back today with medicine. The cheetah's enclosure--which he shares with his four siblings--had to be burned today. The vet said it was the only way to get rid of whatever it was. They're all back in there now with medicine squirted into their mouths twice a day.

Marieta is concerned enough that she's quarantined the cheetahs from the volunteers. They can no longer have physical contact or feed them until this thing calms down. That means that I have a real job now. Another woman who comes here a lot and is visiting now name Kaatje and I are in charge of cheetahs. We feed all of the cheetahs that are on the inside of the farm--the five siblings, Jeannie, Mauritz, Pride and her cubs, and of course Koema. (Atheno is being fed by the outside tourguide.) We are the only two that are allowed contact with the baby Koema. We DO NOT want him to get sick. So we all wash our hands constantly and make sure no one can come near him.

I appreciate the urgency of the situation but I feel sorry for the volunteers. Touching and interacting with cheetahs is the high point of being a volunteer, and at least for now, that's off the table. Personally, I feel honored that Marieta trusts me with her babies. Today was pretty exhausting, though. But I feel needed, and that's good.

So in order to leave you on a positive note, here's the star of my blog, Koema. (Well, Carolyn would have been the star, but I doubt you want to see a picture of her, pale faced, in bed.) I have pretty close to a million pictures and videos of him at this point. He begs to be committed to film.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Pride and her Cubs

For those of you  who have read my blog before, you know the story of the cheetah Pride, but I'll summarize here before I give an update.

Pride was a cub 10 years ago when I came as a volunteer. She was the full grown cat, a year later, with whom I spent the night out in her enclosure--the most magical night of my life--and the reason I have a tattoo of a cheetah paw on the inner side of my right wrist. It's to remind of that night, and remind me that no matter what happens in my life, I've had that experience, and it's more than anyone deserves.

Once she grew up--hand fed--Pride was moved to the Lifeline Project, an 18-square-miles area where she could live a life in the sort-of-wild, hunting her own food and surviving on her own, closely monitored with a radio collar. She's been amazing there, killing a springbok one minutes and then purring and coming to caretakers who want to check her health. She had one litter of two and when died, adopted a third orphan. Recently, she had a new litter of cubs--three--and has been back here at the main house in an enclosure while her cubs grow to the size where they feel they can have a shot at surviving in the Lifeline.

A few months ago, Harnas resuced a cheetah cub about the same age, a wild female that got named Desert, because that's where they found her. When Pride's cub Nick got bit by a spitting cobra (as bad as it sounds) and had to be removed, the put Nick in with Desert during recovery. They bonded, and so when Nick went back to Pride and her other two cubs, Desert went too. At first there was some hissing, but eventually all was settled in Cheetah Land, and now Pride is caring for her own three and one adopted cub. She's amazing.

I go to visit her as often as I can. The cubs are wild and will hiss at me if I get closer than a yard or two, but Pride still comes to me and purrs, and lets me put my arms around her. She's a special cat. Here she is with her four babies.

Okay, I've tried for half and hour to upload one photo of Pride and her cubs. Can't do it. Internet isn't worth a damn here. Of course we're out in the middle of the Kalahari  Desert, so . . . .

Picture a big girl cheetah and four half as big babies. There you have it.  We'll try another day.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Arrivals

I didn't write yesterday because it was an eventful day--and here's why:

The universe takes away--like the little baboon--but it also gives. Within the last week, in the large cheetah enclosure, a female cheetah gave birth. Marieta knew it was about to happen and had moved the female into a smaller, separated place so the males wouldn't kill the babies (as they do--even house cats will kill the offspring of another male). So when it became clear that the female had given birth, they started to look for the cubs to make sure they were okay. They didn't show up, so finally Marieta sent some men in to look for the cubs.

They found one cub dead, and another one, male,  that had had its tail bitten off by--probably--mongooses. There was a third one, a female, that was fine. But the mother wasn't taking care of them. Maybe she was too young, maybe she just didn't have the maternal instinct. Whatever the cause, the cubs were destined to die if Marieta didn't do anything. So she took the two living cubs and brought them back to her kitchen and started feeding them with her unique concoction of milk, cream, protein, vitamins, and calcium. They're drinking well and seem to be doing all right, considering what they've been through.

They're very small right now--about the size of your hand--and their eyes are not even open. They don't do much but drink milk and sleep. I've reached into their box and snapped this photo and petted them for a bit, but I try not to do it too often because they just need to sleep and get stronger.

No names yet. Sometimes Marieta picks them herself and sometimes they have volunteers vote on it. I'll let you know. Meanwhile, Marieta is going to Swakopmund tomorrow for a few days to see her son Schalk and his family. She's taking them with her so they have constant care.

That means I'll have a little more responsibility with Koema--babysitting him during the day and making sure his feedings take place. Marty--Marieta's right hand woman--will do most of the feeding, but I'll be around to do my share.

And in case I haven't said it before, I'm just head over heels in love with Koema--who will now have younger silbings to play with in a few weeks. I've taken dozens of photographs and believe that everything he does is perfect. I disregard all the bruises and bites he has inflicted and give him kisses whenever he'll let me. I understand, finally, why parents spoil their children. Here's one of the many photos I've taken of his face--which--have I mentioned?--is perfect.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Even Warthogs Deserve Love

Here is my constant lunch and dinner companion. The volunteers named him Happy Meal, but that's insulting to all warthogs everywhere, so I've renamed him Murray. I don't know why. He LOOKS like somebody's great uncle Murray.

You can see him here sleeping on my feet, leaving warthog spit on my feet. It's not the worst thing I've been covered in today, though, so I cope. Before he settles on my feet, however, we have to go through about 10 minutes of his "rooting" around on my legs. Picture a wet vacuum with a bit of nibble in it. Finally he lies down and makes lots of noise while he sleeps: he snorts, he has a sort of nasal whine, and he occasionally farts. Music to accompany dinner.

I wish I didn't have to give you bad news, but I do. The baby boy baboon didn't make it. Marieta took him to the vet in Gobabis three days in a row, but he was so small--born premature--and he had this virus that made the milk just go through him. He stopped breathing in the middle of the night. We're all devastated, of course. We were all putting everything into his care, but it was not to be. With over 400 other animals to care for, we go on. Here's a picture of him on his last day:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

My favorite animal??

So if someone said to me that I could take just ONE animal from Harnas home--which is a stupid idea because wild animals make bad pets. But just saying if I had a perfect habitat for it, and my dogs were okay with it, and it was legal and all. If I had to do it--put a gun to my head and make me choose--it would probably end up being Atheno.

This first picture is of him as a cub when we first fell in love in December 2011. He grew up into a magnificent male cheetah--big and powerful--but to me he is always the sweet cub he is in this picture. He lives out in an enclosure that's a good walk, and you have to really mean it to go there. So sometimes the volunteers don't visit him as much as he deserves. They're also a little intimidated by him. Did I mention he got BIG.

I love him, so I go out to his enclosure every single day right after lunch, brush him with the special brush I brought along just for him, listen to him purr, and talk. He's a lot cheaper than a therapist, and he does a better job.

Today I had an especially wonderful day with him. I got to the enclosure, entered, and called for him to come. A few minutes later I saw his fabulous form making his way through the tall grass to me. We greeted each other and then I went over to the shady spot and sat down cross-legged. He came over and first put his head over my shoulder, as he usually does. I wrapped my arms around his back and we hugged for a few minutes. Then he stepped into the space created by my crossed legs and collapsed into my lap. His head rested on my leg. He purred and I rubbed his head, his cheeks, his back. And he purred like nobody's business for a long time.

Then he stopped. He had fallen asleep in my lap. This huge, powerful cheetah trusted me enough to fall asleep on me. I was afraid to move, to breathe, afraid he'd wake up and this magical moment would end. He slept for about ten minutes and then rolled off and over, showing me his white belly.

It was the best moment I've had since i got here at Harnas. And that's saying a lot. This is why I come.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An Update and a Walk

First an update: the baby baboon made it through the night and went back to the vet today. He just got home attached to an IV. Marieta gives her all for every little one, and this one is getting the full outpouring of love and energy to help him.

This morning Marieta suggested I go on a cheetah walk that the volunteers were taking, so I joined them and was happy to see that Carolyn was among the vols. We took out four of the five cheetahs who are about 10 months old (one refused to get into the truck so she stayed home). A few of the vols were in the truck with the cheetahs. I climbed on the roof and held on for dear life along with Carolyn and two others. We parked a couple hundred yards down the road and let out the cheetahs. They knew just what to do--walk a bit, lie down, and submit to pictures from the vols.

I got some good ones of Carolyn and her friends. I'm going to try to upload one here. BB

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Our House is a very very very fine house

This is my cat. She apparently came with the bungalow that I'm staying in. I wasn't here 5 minutes last Friday night when she came mewing at my door, begging to be let in. I did, of course. She's slept with me every night since, helping keep me warm. I'm sure she has an official name, but I've been calling her Black Beauty--or BB for short. Where else do you get a cat with a room?

Some anxious news today: the baby baboon isn't doing well. He was born to a mother who was (they thought) even too young to be sterilized, premature. The mother didn't know what to do with him, and he was failing. So Marieta went in a took the baby to save it. The mother--once Marieta's baby and a baby I helped grow named Coco--handed her over willingly.

This morning I went into Marieta's kitchen and held the baby boy for an hour, bottle fed him, and talked to him, but he was weak and having diarrhea. Marieta took him to the vet today in Gobabis--about an hour away. She's still gone so I don't know what the vet said.

One of the things that I love about Marieta is that she believes in the individual life of each animal. Sure, she's believes in the survival of the species, but she also believes that this little one, this individual life, has a right to go on. So I don't know what you believe, but I'm just asking you to think positive thoughts, pray, hope--whatever--that this little boy whom I held and kissesd this morning, survives. His eyes are so human.

And so as not to end on an anxious note, while I've been writing this--at a table outside the lapa in the setting sun--a half-grown warthog has been rooting around me, sort of sucking on my jeans and trying to get me to pet him (perhaps the least attractive animal alive). Right now I think he's sucking on my foot. Hilarious. You just never know here at Harnas. BB

Monday, June 27, 2016

Baby at Play

I've become sort of obsessed with this baby cheetah, Koema. He's absolutely adorable. At least twice a day we take him out to the lawn to play--with any person or creature that might be there. He's curious and adventurous and full of himself. He's a joy to watch.

Here are a couple of still pictures of him bottlefeeding and just posing. Also I hope the video comes through. It takes forever for videos to upload here and I waited 45 minutes for this one, and I'm still not sure it came out.

Little update on Carolyn. Today was her first day feeding the animals. She got put into a group called the Crocs (There are four groups, each assigned certain animals to care for.). She feeds the cheetah named Jeannie, some baby baboons, some vervet monkeys (biters, I'm afraid), and various other animals. Of course in between the work, there are lots of visits to various animal enclosures just to spend time.

It's winter here and as I've been doing this, the sun as been setting--a red and golden masterpiece. In the distance I can hear the lions beginning to roar. So beautiful. I can't believe I have the privilege to be here and experience this again. I wish I could take it all home with me. BB

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Today was our first full day at Harnas. Last night we arrived just as the sun was setting, and I turned Carolyn over to the volunteers and headed to my own room. We'd been traveling all day with five other volunteers, though, so she already had friends. This morning they threw the vols into action with a tour of both the outside enclosure with baboons, lions, leopards, cheetahs, vervet monkeys, and wild dogs. This afternoon they're touring the inside enclosures close to the house and lapa. I tagged along  this morning to watch the show and take some pics. Here's one of Carolyn  (pinkish shorts) standing on the top of a moving truck, tossing mielipap to the baboons. It's about the consistency of grits or oatmeal, and they get it all over themselves. It's great. She also threw meat  (donkey) over the fences to other animals. I think she's fully initiated now.

I've spent the remainder of my day reaquainting myself with old friends and meeting new ones. One new one that I'm already in love with is two month old Koema (pronounced Koo-mah), a baby cheetah that lives temporarily in Marieta's kitchen. I got to help bottlefeed him. Isn't he adorable?

Note: I wrote the above yesterday afternoon, but I didn't have enough juice in my laptop to post it. Now it's Sunday morning, and it's a beautiful sunny day. I saw Carolyn sitting on the lawn this morning with some of her volunteer friends. They finally got to touch some cheetahs yesterday afternoon, and even play with the baby. Sounds like it's going well. I wish her throat would get better, though. Any suggestions for strep throat besides the antibiotics, anyone?

Today is Marieta's birthday (also my sister Terri back in the states). I'm sure we'll do some celebrating later. BB


Friday, June 24, 2016

Travel Travails

Well, we made it to  Windhoek, capital of Namibia. Two hours to New York, 14 hours to Johannesburg, 2 hours to Windhoek. But then they lost two of my bags. I'm carrying 50 copies of my book for Harnas to sell, and that's mostly what I lost--along with some clothes. (Harnas has such a hard time getting the book for their little store. It takes forever, costs a fortune, and sometimes doesn't make it.) So I offered to bring as many as I could fit.

I've lost my luggage traveling more than a few times, though, and I've always gotten it back, so I remained optimistic. Yesterday afternoon they delivered the first one, a box of books, and last night as we were turning out the light, they brought the second one, so all is accounted for now.

Another blip on the radar screen--Carolyn seems to have strep throat. She's had a cold with a slight sore throat but on the trip it kept getting worse and worse. When we got here to the hotel, we shone a light in there and it's inflamed with spots all over it. Fortunately, I have some antibiotics with me (thank you Dr. Hart! You're always looking out for me!) so we've started her on those.

Yesterday as we were turning out of the airport, we saw a troop of baboons just playing by the side of the road. Carolyn was pretty excited to find some animals so quickly. It's like they were there just to greet her to Namibia.

It's just the beginning, though, and we'll have lots of stories to tell soon enough. Thanks for joining me on this trip. BB

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Back Again to Harnas!

Hello Everyone! It's been a long time, but I'm heading back to Harnas tomorrow morning, arriving at the farm Friday evening. I've missed it so much--it's been over 2 years, and I can't wait to get back and see all my babies--like Zion and Trust, pictured here.

Every trip is different--some animals have died, like my precious dog Pickles whom I will miss greatly. And there will be new animals to fall in love with. But this trip will be especially good because I'm taking my goddaughter Carolyn MacLeod. Some of you might remember a few years ago when I was at Harnas, a good friend of mine, Doug MacLeod, lost his battle with cancer and passed away. That was Carolyn's father. Carolyn is now 18, just graduated from high school and getting ready to enter Duke University in the fall, and I've promised her this trip for several years. She's a real animal lover, and I think she's going to fall in love with Harnas just as I did. She'll be doing hard work as a volunteer, but I'll be doing my regular routine of just hanging around my animals. I'll probably join the volunteers more this time on their activities so that I can spend more time with Carolyn. She'll be the real star of my blog this trip.

So I hope you'll keep reading. Give me a few days to travel and I'll start writing regularly. See you on the other side of the world!