On the Beach

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Wildlife and I

When deciding to move to Africa, one thing I never really factored in was the wildlife.

I don't mean the lions, the cheetahs, the giraffes, the elephants, the buffalo and all the other amazing animals that live in Africa. I mean, you can't really "factor them in" can you? It's not it's a possibility they'll live in your garden or be your next door neighbor or anything like that ("Hi there, welcome to the road, Just wanted to warn about the zebra carcasses you might see us dragging down the road. We find the traditional butcher is, well, a bit minimalist for our family's needs"). That is, unless you live next door to a game lodge or run one, in which case I imagine they'll be a pretty big factor.

I suppose, I did sort of factor them in, in a very minor way because I assumed our children would have easier access to these animals, which they do. Not in a stroke the giraffe walking down the street way (although that would VERY cool) but just, you know, big cat sanctuaries about. And, actually, we did once see an elephant strolling casually parallel to the N2. And yesterday we spent a while sitting on the rocks at Hout Bay while seals played in the shallow water, just metres away from us. So wildlife is a feature.

The wildlife that I most certainly didn't factor in was the type of wildlife I never think about, wildlife that- because of its lack of furriness, lack of impressiveness or lack of cuteness value- I never really think about. The kind of wildlife that doesn't make anyone goes "aaaaah": insects, reptiles and the like.

When we first arrived, whilst I was quite fascinated by the chameleon in the garden, basking on the leaves in the morning sunlight, I was less impressed with the geckos in the house. Or, as I screamed it the first time I saw one running across the wall: "Oh my God, there's a f***ing lizard in the house!".

The spiders didn't amuse me too much either. Whilst we have many fewer "dangerous" spiders here than in, say, Australia, we still have some and I have, of course, listened with horror to tales of people being bitten by button spiders and driving themselves, all woozy, to the hospital. I have trained my girls to be vigilant of spiders and never touch them and I pretty much have an OCD about shaking out their curtains and blankets before they go to bed. And the size of some of the spiders: my 2 year old is a fearless beast and one day she casually remarked that there was a spider in the bathroom. I patted her patronisingly on the head and went about my business. Later, on  trip to the bathroom, I saw said spider and, frankly, the thing couldn't see me for dust. Its body alone was the size of a my child's hand. It was a rain spider. Harmless, apparently. Can give you a bite but not poisonous. Now, I'm sorry but no spider has any business being that big. And the thought of that thing biting is enough to to make me faint, even now.

According to my husband, who  has fancied himself as a bit of a Ray Mears ever since we've been here, there are snakes in the mountains-  puff adders, Cape Cobras and boomslangs. He loves seeing them but this information makes a walk in the mountains unlikely for me.

I have learnt to live with the geckos and even love them for their mosquito eating qualities. I don't freak out when one is in my shower, although I insist on its removal (although not by me. The thought of touching it makes me want to throw up). I have become braver around spiders and can even remove them myself (using gloves and a receptacle). And my children just LOVE all the wildlife around them. My youngest girl wants to  look for lizards every night before she goes to bed. They're both mini Ray Mears in the making.

The one "bit" of wildlife that I am struggling to embrace is the baboon. I've never had an easy relationship with baboons. For a start, they're not aesthetically appealing to me. The whole matted, tick infested fur, big red bum and sharp fangs look has never really done it for me. On the "cute-o-meter", they wouldn't score terribly high. Ticks and red bums don't make for a whole lotta points.

Additionally, we've had a few run-ins and the baboon has not come off well. Years ago, when I was on holiday here visiting Cape Point, I was assaulted by one for my water bottle. Technically, it assaulted my brother first, he threw the bottle to me and it hurled itself on me. I had paw prints on my T-shirt. Not a look I was coveting. I now know that I cannot blame the baboon alone- lots of naive (I'm being polite) tourists feed the baboons who then feel a sense of entitlement to every food stuff and beverage they see. It was scary nonetheless.

Then, after we moved here, we went to the Porter Estate Market in Tokai. This is a gorgeous market in the forest where the parking guards carry huge sticks to scare baboons away from the cars. I arrived back at my car to find the parking guard grinning sheepishly. He said "The baboon, he broke your mirror lady". I thought he was joking until I saw the wing mirror hanging off, paw prints all over it and the windscreen. The children squealed in delight at the paw prints. I was less ecstatic. I'll give the baboon the benefit of the doubt- I am assuming my car was in the way rather than it being willful vandalism.

Recently, we went on holiday to Hermanus, to a beautiful villa in the wilderness outside the town. As we arrived, the lady said- wide-eyed- they'd just chased a big male baboon off the stoep. She advised us that we must close all windows and doors when we go out so as to avoid walking in on a baboon party in the kitchen when we came back. This information did not fill me with joy- I imagined a joyless holiday in an airless house, baboons knocking at the windows and pointing fiercely at the bananas. Planet of the Apes in Hermanus.

As it was, we didn't see any near the house (I guess they were frightened off by my savage children) but we did see them foraging in bins and chilling by roads. They live in the mountains and they come to hang out near the bins in the day. I guess it's easier than hunting.

On reflection, baboons make me uneasy. They're a wild animal and they just roam parts of the Western Cape. And humans and baboons have yet to figure out how to coexist. We can't treat them like pets and feed them, they're smart enough to soon come in and help themselves and they really won't care about the mess they leave. They're wild animals, so they need to be contained somehow for their safety and ours. I suppose I should marvel at the fact that I live in a city where I can do all the urban things I can think of, yet 20 mins down the road, a troop of baboons is chilling at the roadside, completely oblivious to the urban chaos close by.

You never know, this time next year given my progress with lizards and the like, I could have grown to love baboons. Although they'll need to have had a serious makeover first. Maybe there's a business opportunity for someone- baboon beauty salons anyone?


  1. Hi there, I found your blog on the Expat Blog site. I am from South Africa, living in South East England. I really miss the geckos over here! I saw a couple when I visited last year and took tons of photos of them! I miss the massive spiders too - we used to get Flatties and Rain Spiders.

  2. Hi Emm, nice to hear from you! Geckos are everywhere right now, getting tons of babies in the house. You'd love it!

  3. Hee hee! Yeah, I really miss the Jo'burg summers but I don't miss the winters, that is for sure! I dream of moving to Cape Town sometimes though but my husband is not keen on returning at all!

  4. I spent a significant portion of my life in SE London, dreaming of moving to CT, having spent some of my childhood In Jo'burg. I guess maybe one day
    you'll change your mind or he'll change his