Baboons + dogs + drought = not good

It was Saturday afternoon.  Hot, but we cooled off with a dip in the pool.  We read a bit, then laid down for a nap, minds relaxed because it was Saturday – we knew we didn’t have to get up for work, no farm staff until Monday.

Yet, our eyes weren’t closed long, when I felt Jay climb out of bed.  I didn’t concern myself at first, sometimes he gets ideas and gets up, and it was a quick thing – he’s one of those people who can get up in a flash.  I’m one of those who has to flop around for ten minutes then force my eyes open and drag myself out.  I began this process when I realized he wasn’t coming back.  Something was up.  I had managed to roll over, not yet gotten my eyes open, when a gun shot rang out.

And with that, I was on my feet.

A random shot in the afternoon usually means one of two things: rabid kudu at the gate or baboon in the garden.  In the case of a kudu, it’s meant to kill.  For baboons, it’s meant to scare away.  This afternoon, I knew it was for baboons because they’d been after our fruit trees for a while now.

A rainy season that doesn’t rain is hard on everyone, for many reasons, but at least we humans still manage to eat.  The wildlife, after the long dry season, depends on rain – no rain means no food and no food means visiting the humans, even if they have to dodge a bullet on the way.

But that’s usually all it is, a bullet.  Singular.  So, I got dressed, but not in any particular hurry.  Not until I heard Jay’s voice, “Sniiiffffeeeelllll!”, followed by our little dog’s incessant barking disappearing into the distance, and then another gun shot.

And then the stomach dropped.

Our doofy little dog, Sniffel, rarely deems something worthy of barking at.  He’s a pretty live-and-let-live kind of guy.  But something in his terrier brain snaps when he hears a gun shot.  He must, under any circumstance, be a part of the hunt.  He doesn’t know what the prey is, he doesn’t know where it is, but no matter, he’s off at top speed to find it.  Which is exactly what he did on this Saturday afternoon.

SniffdogThere were two things wrong with this.  One: baboons can be dangerous if provoked, say by doofy little barking dogs.  They are big, strong, and have some serious teeth.  Two: one baboon might not take on a doofy little dog, but a whole troop might just tear it apart.  Especially if they’re all hungry.  And as Sniffel ran after the one baboon that took off up the hill, Jay watched as it stopped, turned around, and ran back in the direction of the dog, with its whole troop behind him.

babsThis is when Jay yelled, fired the second shot, and I got my pants on and my ass out the door.

I ran in the direction of the barking, both dog and baboon – out the front gate, toward the main road.  I couldn’t see Jay or Sniff, but a second later he fired a third shot and cloud of smoke rose from half way up the hill.  What it meant, I didn’t know, but then all was quiet.

I think I would’ve kept running, oblivious to the whizzing bullets or hungry, pissed off baboons, but then Jay popped out of the brush, rifle in one hand, little dog in the other.  Sniff was panting wildly, tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, enormous grin on his face.  He was obviously very proud of himself.

Jay spilled the whole story once down from the hill, explaining how Sniffel hadn’t originally followed him outside, he must’ve slipped through the gate after the first shot.  All he saw was a bolt of white tearing up the hill and he couldn’t stop it.  And we had both been afraid that we’d lost our dog.

The drought continues, as does the battle with the baboons.  There is a degree of sympathy for hungry wildlife, but wildlife that can eat your dog is not something to welcome onto the yard.

We wonder what the rest of the year will be like, when the chance of rain disappears for another six months and the animals still haven’t eaten.  All we can do is now though is watch the sky and keep the gun nearby.

Something new for dinner

My explorations into Namibian cuisine have taken another step.  You may not want to hear about it, but hey, if you read my oryx brain story, this one should go down easy. Ready?

Jay and I ate deep-fried zebra snake.

Seriously.

It went like this:

Our chickens were in a major brooding mood.  A few of them were just desperate to sit on some eggs, and we wanted more chickens, so we let them.  The first hen hatched 13 eggs, and with that we doubled our chicken herd.

The second clutch was a bit of an accident.  The hen hid her eggs in tall grass and before we knew it, she disappeared to sit on them.  In time, we found her and her eggs, and with a bit more time, 10 chicks hatched.

Back in the coop, we could hardly keep the hens from sitting so we let one more have a chance.  Eventually, 8 more chicks were born.

Doing the maths, we now had 31 baby chickens running around.

No matter where in the world they were, these helpless balls of meat would attract predators.  I knew better than to expect them all to survive to adulthood, but nevertheless, when they began to disappear, it was depressing.

The original thirteen stayed strong.  Either their mom was tough and kicked some ass whenever something tried to grab one, or they just got lucky.  The second batch of ten, though, had a newbie, slightly air-headed, mom, and within a week, they were whittled down to five.

Then, the third batch began to dwindle – one or two at a time, every few days.  We had a repeat offender on our hands; a nocturnal snake who knew he’d found the jackpot.

When a python took one of the thirteen, who were now pretty big, he was too fat to escape.  So we hauled him out the next morning and transported him far from the house.  But the chicks kept disappearing.

One morning, I found another of the thirteen unable to walk.  His leg had a clear snake bite on it, and he died soon after.  Now we knew we had a venomous snake – that ruled out another python.  And mambas being day snakes left only one other suspect: the zebra snake.

http://lh6.ggpht.com/4bg4hIj9USj_Bg2m3vXYujHdaZjILZaxrUtNn2dht0fFbzewxiqquaYLkKRJFCNd7lQ0fo-nQkihkCE3MfTcDA=s1200

Zebra snake. Photo courtesy projectnoah.org

We began fortifying our coops.  Normally, we use just one, but with all these new animals, we were using two old, non-snake-proof ones.  We fixed holes, cemented around the bases, put up extra mesh fencing, and rested better once they were done, thinking the chickens were safe.

Yet the next morning, two more of the oldest chicks were dead but not eaten, a third paralyzed, and one of the younger chicks gone and another half-eaten and then regurgitated.  It was frustrating enough having my chickens become snake food, but to have them killed and not be anyone’s food was even worse.

I declared war.

My grand plan of attack, as told to Jay: hang bells around the coop wherever a snake might enter and then sleep outside.  “Whenever a bell rings”, I told him, “I’m going out there, and I’m taking the shotgun.”

Jay assured me this wasn’t necessary (kindly brushing aside the fact that we own approximately two bells, one being strapped to a goat’s neck, and I have only a slim idea of how to work the shotgun which is a bit overkill, anyway).  His much more realistic plan: attach a spotlight to a car battery and set it near the coop.  We then set the alarm for 3 a.m. and go out there, well-lit, in search of a snake.

Right on schedule, the snake turned up the second night.  And we didn’t even have to set the alarm, he was in the coop before we went to bed.  Jay took the appropriate-sized rifle, I held the light, and a minute later we had a dead, meter-long zebra snake.

Doing my maths again, this one snake had killed 14 chicks.  To ensure that they didn’t die in vain, in my mind, there was only one thing to do: we had to eat the snake.

Our farm staff was as clueless as we were about how to prepare a snake, not to mention completely revolted by the whole idea.  So, we briefly consulted the internet, then grabbed a knife and chopped off its head.

headlessThe head contains the venom, so headless venomous snakes are safe to eat.  The next task was to remove the skin.  First, we cut the bits holding it to the muscle,

skin be goneand after that, the skin peeled right off.

skin removalThen, out came the guts,

gutsthat contained the last of the last baby chicken,

my chickand just like that we had innards to toss, meat to eat, and a skin to . . . do something with.

3 of a kindIn the kitchen, the meat was chopped up,

filetsbattered up,

bread crumbin'and fried up.

deep fryMost people say that snake meat, ironically, tastes like chicken.  Not being a big meat eater myself, that’s the best comparison I have for you.  Jay constructively noted that it tasted like snake. In any case, there was about as much meat as there was bone, making for a tedious meal.  I’m certainly interested in trying other, fatter species, though.

So, ye legless varmints beware, there be snake eaters on this here farm.

Oh My Africa – September 2014

Namibia “has begun the construction process of a historic solar project”, according to The Namibian, a creatively-titled English-language newspaper over here.

Why historic? Because it’s the country’s “first utility-scale ground mounted PhotoVoltaic (PV) power plant.”

Why is this in my collection of weird, funny, and ridiculous things in Africa?  Because Namibia, the land of 300 days of sunshine a year, the land with a sun on its flag, just now, nearly 15 years into the 21st century, stopped piddling around with coal long enough to build a solar power plant.

This may have something to do with its serious energy deficit, and that it imports nearly all of its energy from other countries, and that those deals are on the verge of expiring, but hey, at least they’re doing something.

As the Namibian reports: “The 4,5 megawatt (MW) renewable energy power plant will supply over 1% of Namibia’s domestic power generation.”

Hey, like I said, at least it’s something.

Baked mud

The sun. It don’t mess around.

 

Oh My Africa – June 2014

We’re all guilty of stereotypes.  I believe it is human nature to categorize things, especially unfamiliar things, into nice, tidy standards.  But in a self-perpetuating cycle, publishers are using our stereotypes to sell products which further the stereotype, because as it turns out, we really do judge books by their cover.

The folks over at the blog Africa is a Country recently posted about a meme created to show how African literature routinely gets the “acacia tree treatment”.  Basically, they write, “the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”

Their proof:

bookmeme

As if all of Africa exists in a permanent state of sunset.

After reading the blog, I was compelled to see if it was true for Namibian books as well.  Though there aren’t many works of literature set in this country, there’s a whole heap of photography books.  Let’s hope their contents vary more than their covers:

So, Namibia is a sandy, lonely place with elephants, trees, and a sun.  Like all stereotypes, that frustratingly ignores all the rest the country has to offer.

According to a book cover designer interviewed on this topic by the Washington Post, publishers package books based on readers’ expectations because that makes them comfortable.

It won’t be the publishing houses then, who step up and teach people how other parts of the world really are.  So, as the Post points out, we’ll have to do it ourselves, through social media and blogging; show the world through our own words and pictures how life on our side actually is.  We’ll have to be brave, honest, and open.  But readers will have to be, too.

Maybe then, by the time my book is finished, they’ll be ready for a bit more unconventional photo for the cover:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The mystery of the black cat and the full moon

Like most places in the world, every month or so, we get a full moon here on the farm.  Generally, it is a welcome occasion.  There is a local theory that it brings rain, but otherwise, it simply allows us to move about at night without clinging to a flashlight (or torch, depending on your English proclivities) or walking into things.  Plus, it’s pretty.

moon 'n cloudsThere is one drawback, though.  When the full moon slides into the sky over the hill in the east, it takes the sanity of one of our three cats with it.

She isn’t ever really normal.  Normal is not a cat adjective.  But back in the States, this little black cat of mine had no reaction to the state of the moon.  Maybe it was because we lived in an apartment and the outdoors were not a part of her life.  Maybe coming to this Namibian farm has brought out the leopard inside of her.  Maybe her brain is flashing images of huge yet very slow lizards, or hordes of giggling mice traipsing through the kitchen, champagne in one hand, cheese gobs in the other. I don’t know.  She simply cannot control the instinct telling her that she must go outside.

the cat

The little black cat, covered in dirt, and probably hunting something.

It seems to only affect her in the winter.  She’ll patrol the room, pacing back and forth, mewing and squeaking, informing us of her distress.  And this is when we are still downstairs eating dinner.  We can hear her through the wall (which, to be fair, is made of logs and fairly porous).  Once we climb into bed the fun really begins.  Like a pouting 4-year-old, she stomps over us to get to the window above our heads, wails her misery to the world on the windowsill for a few minutes, and then leaps down again with a four-footed landing and stomps back the other way.

This is then repeated throughout the night.

Jay and I used to just sleep through it, or pretend to.  I felt guilty for subjecting him to my apparently PMSing cat, but once we got some sleep again, we’d laugh it off and forget about it.  Til the next month.

But this time, I thought of a solution.  It was so simple, it was aggravating to think of how much sleep was lost by us not having thought of it before.

Water.

My cats hate water.  Unless it is going down their throat – by their own doing – it is evil. I tried to give them a bath once when all three became infested with fleas.  I walked away from it bloody and wetter than they were.  When a stream of water comes their way, they will do anything to avoid it.

Thus, needing a water-launching device and not owning a water gun, I turned to the syringes left over from multitudes of cow injections.  Once the needle is off, those things can shoot surprisingly far.

Problem is, our little syringes only hold one round, and it’s easy to miss a small black cat even with a full moon.  Which is, of course, exactly what happened.  So I stepped it up a notch.  With a whole glass of water in my mouth, I headed toward the warbling.  The first squirt hit the ground, and the cat bolted across the room, still singing her woes.  I caught up to her, and let out another squirt.  Another miss, another puddle.  She was hiding behind the bedside lamp now, by Jay’s head.  He seemed semi-asleep despite the commotion, but I was on a mission.  I shot the last of my water and hit the cat square on.  She took off again, silent this time, and I climbed back into bed for a triumphant sleep.

The cat spent the night and those to follow on the lonely chair by the glass door.  I suppose she was either mad or she wanted to keep an eye out in case those oafish lizards wandered by.  In any case, it seems mother nature had heard her distress calls.  One night a gust of wind blew the door open and by the time we noticed, the cat had long ago disappeared into the night.

Luckily, she returned by morning with that innocent cat look on her face, despite the headless mouse in the shower.  I have no idea if it was meant as a gift, to say all is forgiven, or if she brought it as proof, to say “I told you so”.

I don’t believe that I will ever figure out my cats.  I don’t intend to try.  I would only like to sleep.  And, if it’s not too much to ask, keep decapitated wildlife out of the bathroom.

the gift

Thanks.

 

Bees battle more than just pesticides

When news of the struggle bees are up against worldwide with neonicotinoid pesticides and colony collapse reached us down here in Namibia, we were grateful that the bees around us seemed healthy, happy and populous.  Here on our farm we had 15 swarms living in boxes with an extra one always strategically placed for a house-hunting swarm to pass by.  But this year our bees had their own struggle and, sadly, lost.

We should’ve known – last year was just too good.  Although Namibia was sick with drought, our bees scrounged up food from somewhere and produced a miraculous 150 kilograms of honey.  It was ridiculous, but we were delighted, nonetheless.

This year, we prayed for rain, dreading the thought of another dry year and what it would do to the farm.  Luckily, the rain came – over double what fell last year.  That rain awakened all the bugs which had stuck it out underground, waiting for humid conditions to return.  And the skies went black.

Well, not really, but the bee boxes did.  Big, black beetles called chafers, began swarming, bullying their way into any hole they could fit their fat butts through, to get to the juicy bee larvae inside.  We tried our best to plug any holes, leaving only enough room for the bees to pass, but the beetles bulldozed through anyway.  We’d try to bat them out of the air and squish the prowlers on the outside of the box, but that often ended in getting stung by a pissed-off bee.  During subsequent box inspections, we’d find 50+ beetles lumbering around.  And no honey.  The bees were spending more time fighting them off then collecting food.

The beetles...

The beetles…

...ready for squishing

…ready for squishing.

Later in the season, the death’s head moths came, so called because of the skull image on their back.  Clearly, an unfun bug.  They are big as far as moths go, but fairly flat, and so can squeeze through narrower holes that the beetles wouldn’t fit through.  Sometimes they did us a favor and got stuck in one of them and died, effectively plugging that hole against future invaders.  But when duty called to smush them manually, they made an awful, alien screeching sound – a new sound effect for my nightmares.

The jerks, next to my pocketknife for comparison.

The jerks, next to my pocketknife for comparison.

As if that weren’t enough for our bees to battle, then the wax moths showed up.  These are much smaller, about the size of a blueberry, but white and dull.  They lay their eggs in the box which hatch into equally bland worms.  The worms, however, grow big and plump, eating and pooping their way through the beeswax.  It is not uncommon to find a box deserted by the swarm, yet full of worms, their poop, and their cocoons.  On our last inspection, that’s exactly what happened.

Inside a bee box, showing the frames upon which they build their combs, covered in cocoons and tiny worm poops

Inside a bee box, showing the frames upon which they build their combs, covered in cocoons and tiny worm poops…

...and the butterballs themselves, whom I take great pleasure in feeding to the chickens.

…and the butterballs themselves, whom I take great pleasure in feeding to the chickens.

Box after box was silent and empty.  We had checked on them only a few weeks before, and they were still strong, but the parasite triumvirate was too much.  From 15, we are now down to 5.

Even from the surviving boxes, beetles, moths, and worms were hauled out and stomped.  Though, with cooler weather upon us, they seem to be slowing down – hopefully, the worst is over.  The swarms that are left now have a few weeks to stock up for winter.  If they do manage a bit of honey, it will be well earned and they’ll get to keep it.  Our dwindling supplies will have to hold until spring.

As with many things, we can now only wait and see if the bugs exhausted their forces this year and if whatever comes next season is a load that the bees can handle.  Otherwise, we’ll need a serious consultation in pest control; pesticides clearly not an option.  Any advice from fellow bee folk out there is most welcome.

Sweepings from just one room of the three-room bee house - beetles, moths, and the bees who gave their lives to fight them.

Sweepings from just one room of the three-room bee house – beetles, moths, and the bees who gave their lives to fight them.

Oh my Africa – 11 April 2014

I’m going to start the OMAs (short for Oh my Africa, my new blog series of funny, ridiculous, and entertaining things from around the continent) off with a truly special offering from right here in Namibia.

The country recently celebrated its 24th birthday and to mark the occasion, it bought itself a N$5,750 banner to put up over the main CBD thoroughfare in Windhoek, appropriately named Independence Avenue.  Apparently, it was more than just a birthday present, though, it was a test, to see if Namibians were paying attention.

You may have noticed a couple of errors there – “indepence” not being a word, and that “celebrate” should have an “s” on the end of it.  But these were not mistakes, says Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakanda, the state secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.  It was “shock therapy”, he told the Allgemeine Zeitung, Namibia’s German-language newspaper.  “Now we know that the public is attentive and the nation is behind us”, he said.

I, for one, am relieved to hear that.

The banner was then taken down and replaced with one where “independence” was spelled correctly, but “celebrate” was still missing its “s”.

Later, the printers were blamed and Minister Joel Kaapanda apologized for any inconvenience.  He then assured the public that “an internal investigation team will establish who was responsible for the mistake and the culprit will face disciplinary action.”

Investigating typo-culprits and a 5k piece of plastic? I think all we really learned from this ordeal is how good the government is at wasting money.