Jumbo update 15 March 2013
This week I thought we could chat about the various small antelope that have shared their infancy with us. Small antelope can survive in relatively small areas of bush, tend to live on leaves, grass and fruit and so are not hugely destructive to crops and as a result can co-exist pretty well with humans and are found all over the country. When they are under threat the babies lie down quietly in the grass whilst the mothers try to outrun the threat and as a result very often the mothers are killed for bush meat and the babies are left orphaned.
Over the years we have had numerous duikers, grysbok, bushbuck, klipspringers and steenbok that have shared our lives for a while until they are big and strong enough to return to the wild.
When they are very small the babies need to be bottle fed every few hours and tickled under the tail to encourage them to go to the toilet and so my staff at the office are pretty used to me arriving for work with a buck or two in the car to spend the day in the office so that I can feed throughout the day and then in the evening they hop in the car with me to go home for the night. One thing about taking them to work and back is that transporting them to the bush for release is really easy, I just open the car door and they jump in ready for the ride and jump out again at the other side. Police road blocks around Lilongwe are pretty used to seeing me driving around with various animals in the car and so there is no real surprise which is useful but I do always carry my captivity permit just in case I come across a new policeman who has not met me before.
Once they no longer require bottle feeding they remain at home whilst I go to work and every evening I take them out into the garden for a good run around, as they do all go back to the wild I try to reduce their contact with the dogs as they cannot learn that dogs are friends and so they are kept either in the house if it is cold or wet or outside in an enclosure near the house away from the dogs and then a couple of times a day the dogs are locked away for a little while to let the buck free to run. Early evening is “crazy time” when they run as fast as they can round and round the garden, rugby players could learn a lot about dummies from these little buck who zigzag and change direction at lightening speed, instinct teaching them how to avoid predators.
In the evenings before bed time the buck quite often jump onto the couch and lie down next to me for a while, much to the surprise of one of our visitors. It was his first trip to Malawi and was not really aware of my “nutty side” that has all sorts of animals as friends and he walked into the lounge and sat on the couch that I normally sit on – a few seconds later three little duiker jumped up onto the couch next to him and I came in to find a very still, very quiet man who whispered “do they bite?”. Once he had got used to the idea of buck in the house he became quite enamored with him but |I am sure he went home with loads of stories about “that crazy woman in Malawi”.
I have come to the conclusion that of all the antelope the duiker are the most stupid and most difficult to feed – they will feed perfectly one time and the very next feed seem to forget completely what a bottle is all about and will butt at you and bleat but totally refuse to take the teat in their mouth, it requires loads of patience, bending over the little buck to simulate the mothers body and subjecting your self to lots of hard little butts until they finally seem to remember what the teat is all about. The first 10 days in the most critical, once you have got them through that and they have fully adjusted to the formula they normally thrive but ……not all of the babies manage to digest the formula and some of them just don’t have any will to survive and just give up. The little grysbok on the other hand are the smartest and very quickly learn about the bottle, they are very shy creatures and never get as attached to you as the duiker who will follow you around all day. The grysbok have the most beautiful patterns of hair growth in their ears and of course the bushbuck have lovely spots but my favorite little buck of all was a little steenbok that grew up in our house on the farm when I was a little girl. Dad found him in the fields; his mother had been disturbed and killed by poachers just after giving birth and did not even have time to clean him. He was the size of a baby rabbit when he arrived – steenbok are one of the smallest antelope in Africa and they have huge ears and lovely liquid eyes. Mum battled with him for ages to get him warm and interested in taking a bottle, luckily one of the sheep had given birth that day and she was able to milk her and get a bit of the vital colostrum into him, this colostrum is so important to little mammals as it gets the gut working and contains all the antibodies so vital for little babies. Dik Dik grew up strong and brave and just adored Mum. Meal times were always very exciting for him and he loved to stand up on his hind legs to investigate what the humans were eating, for some reason he developed a taste for macaroni and cheese and if that was for dinner and we didn’t share he would do his best to jump up onto the table to help himself – solution – serve Dik dik a small portion before serving any of the humans. Dik dik eventually went back into the bush on the farm and lived near one of the maize lands in a lovely little thicket, we would see him from time to time on our rides and he would come out of hiding to watch us go by. The Bushmen believe that steenbok protect themselves using magic and are very difficult to kill and so tend to hunt other species instead – just wish that all hunters/poachers could see the magic that every animal has and try to preserve this magic instead of destroying it.