🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Story of Hedgie

"Hedgie, the Hedgehog" - watercolour in Moleskine large sketchbook - Maree

Hedgie the African Hedgehog (Atelerix frontalis) came into my life in July 2000, at a time when I felt I couldn’t handle any more responsibilities, (I was already looking after 2 Mountain tortoises and 2 fledgling Laughing Doves, plus 2 baby Guinea fowl) and all I wanted to do was find a safe home for him as quickly as possible, but after the first hour of getting to know him, I’d lost my heart completely!

Hedgie was brought to me after being rescued from some dogs rolling him around the field, presumably quite puzzled at the prickly ball which seemed quite alive, yet yielding not one inch to any prompting or buffeting of any kind.

What attracted him to Bridgette’s garden was the garden light left on at night and under which he could snuffle around for any insects also attracted to the light. And after finding him two or three times in the morning being harassed by the dogs, Bridgette decided it was time for a change of venue for the prickly character who would not even let her catch a glimpse of anything inside the bunch of prickles.

She arrived with him one Sunday afternoon, not sure whether he was still alive or not, as he had not unrolled for quite some time. Cupping him gently in my hands, I took him to the ‘holding pen’, which was a fenced area normally housing the two baby Mountain tortoises that were currently in hibernation inside the house, snug in a box, emerging from time to time for a drink of water and a quick snack before returning to their selective corners. We left Hedgie in peace for a couple of hours and after Bridgette had left, I fetched Hedgie to make sure that he was indeed all right.

After a couple of minutes of gentle coaxing, I was rewarded with a little black nose and black hairy face (juvenile, the hairs later turn white) peering out cautiously, taking in the scene for any possible danger, flipping back into his protective covering at the slightest move. It was not long before he seemed to decide that there did not seem to be any danger and he gently uncurled into his full length, with a soft, warm tummy resting in the palm of my hand. My movements had to be gentle and slow, as he was startled very easily.

After making sure that he was in quite good health, I offered him some bread and milk (for lack of having anything else to possibly give him at such short notice, as it was in the middle of winter and insects were decidedly in short supply). He lapped at the milk quite thirstily at first and after a while ate quite a bit of the bread. He then acted quite strangely, scrambling madly in my hand and I quickly took him back to the holding pen and put him down gently. He seemed quite agitated, running around for a while and then the reason was obvious – nature had called!

Then came the task of making him a shelter in the one corner of the pond area, filled with dried grass and formed into a hollow in the one corner of the shelter. I gently put him to bed, leaving some more bread and milk and fresh water and decided to check on him later.

Hedgie's home

After dark, I went to fetch Hedgie and saw him investigating his new home, trotting the perimeters in an ever-widening circle, starting in the middle and walking the same route over and over, extending the range every couple of laps, until he had satisfied himself of where the boundaries were. Picking him up carefully (I still got pricked because he rolled into a ball, trapping my fingers inside his soft tummy!), we went into the house, where he spent some time curled up in my lap until he couldn’t resist the temptation anymore and started opening up, peering out slant-eyed, as if I wouldn’t be able to see him if his eyes were closed!

We have now established quite a cozy relationship, with him uncurling at the sound of my voice and peeping out to see the reason for this disturbance and if he’s not willing to be disturbed right at that moment, he does little hops combined with grunting and huffing noises, letting me know in no uncertain terms that this is not the right time for any play.

Hedgie weighing in at 450g, can go as high as 750g

His diet has progressed to canned dog food (his favourite), still the milk and bread occasionally, and any insects I collected from under rocks and bark, him delighting mostly in the large wood lice, which he virtually grabs out of my hand and devours in a flash. I also started breeding meal worms, which turned out to be his total favourite.

Hedgie on the couch

Come summer, and when the threat of veld fires is over, I will try and find a suitable place to release him, and I will surely miss him lying on my lap or crawling up my chest, licking any bare skin he comes across and then, to my utter horror, trying to anoint himself on my smell, prickles scraping bare skin and little claws scratching until I’m forced to return him to my lap or the floor. One thing I know for sure, it will be a great emptiness in my life once he goes.

Hedgie on the step of my Studio

PS : I never did release Hedgie, and he went on to spend 8 beautiful years with me, and sadly passed away last year, 2008, from some bowel obstruction that the vet was unable to treat. But I have been left richer for having him in my life and the memories will last forever.


Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

"Danny" - my Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Danny - pencil sketch with watercolour - Maree©

The Sulphur Crested Cockatoo is native to Australia.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua galerita, is a relatively large white cockatoo found in wooded habitats in Australia and New Guinea. They can be locally very numerous, leading to them sometimes being considered pests. They are very popular in aviculture.

It has a total lengh of 45–55 cm (18–22 in), with the Australian subspecies larger than subspecies from New Guinea and nearby islands. The plumage is overall white, while the underwing and -tail are tinged yellow. The expressive crest is yellow. The bill is black, the legs are grey, and the eye-ring is whitish (east Australia) or light blue (remaining part of range). Males typically have almost black eyes, whereas the females have a more red or brown eye, but this require optimum viewing conditions to be seen.

Their distinctive raucous call can be very loud; it is meant to travel through the forest environments in which they live, including tropical and subtropical rain forests. These birds are naturally curious, as well as very intelligent. They have adapted very well to European settlement in Australia and live in many urban areas.

These birds are very long-lived, and can live upwards of 70 years in captivity,[citation needed] although they only live to about 20–40 years in the wild. They have been known to engage in geophagy, the process of eating clay to detoxify their food. These birds produce a very fine powder to waterproof themselves instead of oil as many other creatures do.

A 2009 study involving an Eleonora Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora) named Snowball found that Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are capable of synchronizing movements to a musical beat.

In some parts of Australia, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo can be very numerous, and may cause damage to cereal and fruit crops. Consequently, they are sometimes shot or poisoned as pests. Government permit is required, as they are a protected species under the Australian Commonwealth Law.

They can also be destructive to timber structures such as house planking, garden furniture and trees.

In aviculture
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos may no longer be imported into the United States as a result of the Wild Bird Conservation Act. However, they have been bred in captivity. The potential owner should be aware of the bird's needs, as well as how loud these birds can be and their natural desire to chew wood and other hard and organic materials.

My Cockatoo, Danny

Danny showing off his beauty!

FACT SHEET : "Cocky" Bennet was the oldest Cockatoo on record at 115 years.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


"Dandelion" pencil sketch and watercolour - Maree©

We have clumps of the weed Dandelion growing all over our smallholding and it is absolutely fascinating watching the tiny, fine, little white hairy tufts floating off in the wind, to settle somewhere and somehow penetrate the hard ground to bring forth new life. The tiny yellow flowers are a joy, and many insects, including bees and butterflies, seem to enjoy them immensely. And the flowers last a really long time in a tiny vase.

Other names
Taraxacum, foreign dandelion, wild endive, piss-a-bed, lion's tale or tooth as well as pu gong ying.

Description of the herb dandelion
Dandelion is a perennial with a thick tap root. The saw-toothed leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant. Solitary, bright yellow flowers appear from spring to autumn. Ribbed fruits bearing tufts of fine, white hairs follow flowers. Dandelion is well known as a garden weed.

Parts used
The whole plant is used in herbal preparations - the leaves, roots and flowers.

How It Is Used
The leaves and roots of the dandelion, or the whole plant, are used fresh or dried in teas, capsules, or extracts. Dandelion leaves are used in salads or as a cooked green, and the flowers are used to make wine.

Dandelion is a bitter-sweet, cooling herb that has diuretic, laxative effects. It also stimulates liver function, improves digestion and reduces swelling and inflammation.
It contains sesquiterpene lactones (tetrahydroridentin B and taraxacolide B-D-glucoside), phenolic acid derivative (taraxacoside), triterpenoids (taraxasterol and its derivatives), potassium and insulin.

Safety precautions and warnings

Internal use
Dandelion is used internally for gall bladder and urinary disorders, jaundice, cirrhosis of the liver, dyspepsia and constipation, oedema associated with high blood pressure and heart weakness.

The bitter substance in the herb also stimulates digestion.

In Chinese medicine it is used for lung and breast tumours, abscesses as well as hepatitis.
The high content of insulin makes it useful for people with diabetes.

External use
Chronic joint and skin complaints including acne, eczema, psoriasis. It is used in facial steam, as well as face packs. Folklore recommends dandelion poultices for snakebite.

The young leaves may also be boiled as a vegetable, spinach fashion, thoroughly drained, sprinkled with pepper and salt, moistened with soup or butter and served very hot. If considered a little too bitter, use half spinach, but the Dandelion must be partly cooked first in this case, as it takes longer than spinach. As a variation, some grated nutmeg or garlic, a teaspoonful of chopped onion or grated lemon peel can be added to the greens when they are cooked. A simple vegetable soup may also be made with Dandelions.


Saturday, 6 June 2009

Bush Babies

Galagos, also known as bushbabies, bush babies or Nagapies (meaning "little night monkeys" in Afrikaans), are small, nocturnal primates native to continental Africa, and make up the family Galagidae (also sometimes called Galagonidae). They are sometimes included as a subfamily within the Lorisidae or Loridae.

According to some accounts, the name bush baby comes from either the animal's cries or appearance. The South African name Nagapie comes from the fact they are almost exclusively seen at night.

Galagos have large eyes that give them good night vision, strong hind limbs, acute hearing, and long tails that help them balance. They have nails on most of their digits, except for the second toe of the hind foot, which bears a 'toilet' claw for grooming. Their diet is a mixture of insects and other small animals, fruit, and tree gums

Bush baby

Galagos have remarkable jumping abilities, including the ability to jump up to 2 meters vertically. This is thought to be due to elastic energy storage in tendons of the lower leg, allowing far greater jumps than otherwise possible for an animal of their size. They often urinate on their feet as this enhances their grip capability

After a gestation period of 110-133 days, young Galagos are born with half-closed eyes and are initially unable to move about independently. After a few days (6–8 days), the mother carries the infant in her mouth, and places it on branches while feeding.

Females maintain their territory but share them with their offspring. Males leave their mothers' territories after puberty but females remain, forming social groups consisting of closely related females and their young. Adult males maintain separate territories, which overlap with those of the female social groups; generally, one adult male mates with all the females in an area. Males who have not established such territories sometimes form small bachelor groups.

Galago moholi
Photo: Gerald Doyle

While their keeping as pets is not advised (like many other non-human primates, they are considered likely sources of zoonoses, diseases that can cross species barriers) it is certainly done. Equally, they're highly likely to attract attention from customs officials on importation into many countries. Reports from veterinary and zoological sources indicate captive lifetimes of 12 to 16.5 years, suggesting a natural lifetime of the order of a decade

Galagos communicate both by calling to each other, and by marking their paths with urine. At the end of the night, group members use a special rallying call and gather to sleep in a nest made of leaves, a group of branches, or a hole in a tree.

Bush Baby at night

Both bush babies and galagos often share habitats with monkeys, but as bush babies are nocturnal they do not compete ecologically with monkeys. Bush babies are found throughout East Africa, as well as in woodlands and bush lands in sub-Saharan Africa. They generally do not inhabit areas above altitudes of 6,500 feet. Most often they live in tree hollows that provide shelter. Sometimes they construct nests in the forks of branches, but these are not as commonly used as are natural holes. Bush babies prefer trees with little grass around them, probably as a precaution against wild fires. They will also shelter in manmade beehives.

Food and Feeding
During the rainy season, bush babies eat mainly insects such as caterpillars & dung beetles, which they catch by pouncing on them. They are quick enough to catch mice & lizards. In addition, they raid birds' nests for eggs. Bush babies eat flowers, fruits, pollen, nectar, & honey from wild bees as well. In the dry season, their diet changes as food becomes scarce. They rely on the resin of Acacia & Albizzia trees, & they only survive in areas where these trees grow.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


Porcupines on the red Kalahari dunes, Kgalagadi, South Africa
©South African Tourism

The porcupine is the prickliest of rodents, though its Latin name means "quill pig." There are about two dozen porcupine species, and all boast a coat of needle-like quills to give predators a sharp reminder that this animal is no easy meal. Some quills, like those of Africa's crested porcupine, are nearly a foot (30 centimeters) long.

Porcupines have soft hair, but on their back, sides, and tail it is usually mixed with sharp quills. These quills typically lie flat until a porcupine is threatened, then leap to attention as a persuasive deterrent. Porcupines cannot shoot them at predators as once thought, but the quills do detach easily when touched.

Many animals come away from a porcupine encounter with quills protruding from their own snouts or bodies. Quills have sharp tips and overlapping scales or barbs that make them difficult to remove once they are stuck in another animal's skin. Porcupines grow new quills to replace the ones they lose.

Porcupine roaming in the Northern Cape, South Africa
©South African Tourism

You might be pondering why on earth mother nature endowed this creature with such a crest of formidable spikes. Well, if you knew how tasty and succulent their plump flesh is under that bristle of quills – you would know why the great creator of all beasts and evolution itself provided such a veritable armoury of spines.

"Porcupine Quill" watercolour - Maree

Porcupines occupy a wide range of habitats in tropical and temperate parts of Asia, Italy, Africa, and North and South America. Porcupines live in forests, deserts, rocky outcrops, hillsides and grasslands. Some new world porcupines live in trees, but old world porcupines stay on the ground. Porcupines can be found on rocky areas up to 3,500 m (11,000 ft) high. Porcupines are nocturnal.

The porcupines found in North and South America are good climbers and spend much of their time in trees. Some even have prehensile (gripping) tails to aid in climbing. The North American porcupine is the only species that lives in the U.S. and Canada, and is the largest of all porcupines. A single animal may have 30,000 or more quills. North American porcupines use their large front teeth to satisfy a healthy appetite for wood. They eat natural bark and stems, and have been known to invade campgrounds and chew on canoe paddles. North American porcupines also eat fruit, leaves, and springtime buds.

Porcupine in a relaxed state

Porcupine showing his discontent at being disturbed.

Porcupines in search of salt sometimes encroach on human habitats, eating plywood cured with sodium nitrate, certain paints, and tool handles, footwear, clothes and other items that have been coated in salty sweat. Porcupines are attracted to roads in areas where rock salt is used to melt ice and snow, and are known to gnaw on vehicle tires or wiring coated in road salt. Salt licks placed nearby can prevent porcupines from injuring themselves.
Natural sources of salt consumed by porcupines include varieties of salt-rich plants (such as yellow water lily and aquatic liverwort), fresh animal bones, outer tree bark, mud in salt-rich soils, and objects imbued with urine.

• Store quills in a cool, dry place. A plastic storage container is a good option.
• Always handle porcupine quills with care. They are very delicate and splinter easily.
• Handle uncut porcupine quills with care. The tips are extremely sharp.
• Keep porcupine quills out of the reach of small children and pets because of the sharp edges

Porcupine quills are sharp as needles. Unlike needles, quills have backwards facing barbs that catch on the skin making them difficult to extract.
Magnification x50

Porcupines and baby

A North American porcupine foraging for grubs in the grass.

Our friend, the porcupine is a vegetarian who prefers roots, tubers and sometimes a little bark or wild fruit. Well trodden trails are easily identified by shallow holes, exposed plant roots and bulbs and the odd quill. If by chance it rambles into a farmer’s patch it will feast gloriously upon the tatties, pumpkins and any other root vegetables in its path. It gobbles away noisily until just before dawn and then slips away into the foliage to slumber in a burrow - a veritable Winnie the Pooh. After overly sampling the forbidden delights it leaves a trail of destruction to greet the hapless farmer in the morning.

A wary porcupine with crest erected, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
©South African Tourism

Porcupines have also been known to raid cultivated gardens adjoining nature reserves, mystifying gardeners with the nightly disappearance of their beloved arum lilies. A single sighting of these remarkable creatures roaming around the garden by moonlight tends to be ample compensation to the gardener for the pilfering.

Status: Their population is stable although the increasing demand for their quills as interior decorations and tourist souvenirs sadly spells untimely death to this benign creature – as distasteful as the fur and ivory trade. It has been given Least Risk status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

When you’re most likely to spot porcupines: Porcupines are nocturnal and start foraging well after dusk until just before dawn. Sometimes they bask in the sun just outside their burrows.

Where porcupines roam: They range widely but prefer broken veld, occurring throughout southern Africa except in the Namib desert.

Reproduction & dwellings: During the day they sleep in caves, rock crevices, burrows or hidden in dense vegetation. Although they are solitary foragers, they often share their burrows. They usually have one or two young but can have a litter of up to four. The young are well developed at birth and suckle for about 3 months. They start foraging under the protection of their parents during the weaning stage.


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