Jumbo update 1 march 2013
Today I thought we would go back to reminiscing about animals that have shared our life in the past. Over the years we have had a number of lesser bush babies or night apes as they are more commonly known and their bigger cousins the galago or bush baby. These little guys are often orphaned as the tree in which their mother has built a nest for them is chopped down for firewood. As their names suggest they are nocturnal creatures, sleeping all day and waking up at sunset when they become extremely lively!!! They require bottle feeding every couple of hours during the night but luckily this is just for the first few weeks after which they quickly learn to feed themselves from a saucer – a lot shorter time commitment than a little ele whose bottle feeding days are measured in years and not weeks.
Both bush babies and night apes can jump incredible distances and are fast enough to catch insects on the wing. They are omnivores and eat fruit, insects, eggs and tree sap so pretty easy to feed. They are also solitary creatures and therefore pretty easy to release as you don’t have to introduce them to a family unit in fact all of our babies have essentially released themselves as we have always lived in areas with surrounding bush and the animals are not caged so can come and go as they please and as they get older and more self sufficient they go off into the bush for longer and longer periods until they finally go for good. I always find these kinds of soft releases the easiest on both the animal and their human family wherever possible but of course when you need to find family units or when you need specific types of release areas this is not always possible.
As with any species of animal there is always one that stands out in your memory that you developed a closer than normal bond with and with the bush babies it was a little guy called Tickey. Our family had just moved to a farm in Mchinji in Malawi having left our own farm in Zimbabwe. I was a horrid rather self centered teenager who really did not want to leave my friends and really did not want to be in Malawi until Tickey came into my life. We had been in Malawi for about a week when Dad came home with a little bundle of fluff which he put into my arms. “Here is a new baby for you to look after, he is a very young bush baby who I rescued from a woodcutter, he is going to need feeding every 2 hours and needs to be with you all the time” he said and so began my friendship with Tickey.
Tickey loved spending his days sleeping curled around my neck under my hair, which he did all day every day for the entire 8 week school holiday and to this day the Catholic fathers at the mission station near the farm call me Changa which is the Chichewa word for a bush baby. In the evenings Tickey would wake up and become a real live wire jumping from chair to chair, onto the pelmets, over the tables, on and off people but always within sight of one of us. Mum insisted that Tickey had a bath once a week as he did become rather smelly, he didn’t like his baths very much and would growl away the whole way through the bath, lie back and really enjoy being dried and brushed and then scamper off to find Mum who he would give a sharp bite before coming back to me. I am convinced that he somehow knew that she was the one who insisted on bath time as he never bit me and he only ever bit Mum after a bath.
Tickey lived with us on and off for 5 years. For the first year he did not leave the garden at all and then he gradually started to move further and further afield often not coming home for a few days at a time but it was amazing that when I came home from school I was never home for more than an hour before Tickey would appear even in broad daylight and hop onto my shoulder for a cuddle and a sleep and then he would remain with me all the time until I left at the end of the holidays. At age 5 he left pretty much for good and only came to visit on very rare occasions, normally during the dry season when food was scarce so not quite sure how much was for love and how much the visits were for some free food but it was always special regardless of the reason. Eventually at around age 12 Tickey stopped visiting and we assumed that having reached a ripe old age for a bush baby that he had passed on. It is always sad to lose animals and our instinct is to try and keep them safe all the time by caging them in and making sure they don’t come to any harm but I really do feel that they lead a much happier and fuller life by being free to go back to the wild and face the risks whilst being able to enjoy their freedom and interaction with other animals wherever possible.