Monday, October 26, 2015

The Pets We Can't Pet

In his memoir, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run, Botswana safari guide Peter Allison tells the story of Badge, a honey badger that adopted Allison’s camp as its home and became the unofficial camp “pet.” Despite their arguably cute, snub-nosed faces and a name that implies a sweet demeanor, honey badgers are anything but. Armed with long, sharp claws they can cause serious injury and are scared of nothing. They earn their namesake by plunging head first into beehives to feed on fresh honey, ignoring the swarming, stinging bees. They also fight cobras – and win.  
So imagine Allison’s shock when one night, sitting at the dining table with the camp’s guests, when Badge decided to introduce himself by jumping up in the middle of the table, helping himself to leftovers. After that night, Badge was a regular in camp and while the staff maintained a healthy and necessary fear of him, they grew quite fond of his presence.
I couldn’t help but relate to this story when I read it; we too have our own version of camp “pets” that, like Badge, bring comic relief to our daily routines.

In Serena, our most frequent visitors here are dwarf mongooses. They usually show up all at once, announcing their arrival with chirps and squeaks, barreling down the path in a blur of orange fur. Scurrying and chattering, they search the underbrush for insects; sometimes the braver ones will risk a few steps up onto our tarp before realizing we’re there and make a hasty retreat. They have a den by our choo as well, so they sometimes keep us company while we’re taking care of business (which will never cease to amuse me).

We also have resident warthogs who, despite their potential to be quite dangerous, are surprisingly docile and barely give us notice, completely absorbed in their grazing when we walk past. Tuftless, a warthog that has lost the fluffy end of his tail, visits camp quite often and is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

The most recent addition to our animal friends is Bartok, a leaf-nosed bat, who was discovered hanging upside-down above our lab tent one day.

Birds also like to hang around, mostly a group of noisy arrow-marked babblers, who hop boisterously across our floor tarp. They also seem to enjoy serenading us with their  raspy “kwhaa kwhaa” chorus; let’s just say they could use some singing lessons. My favorite of the group is Rumpy – a babbler missing his entire tail but still seems to fly just fine. 

At night, we often have slightly larger, more “interesting” visitors. Elephants like to graze in the bordering woods and will sometimes wander into camp. Now I love elephants and everything about them. But when a 1-ton animal is trumpeting and breaking branches close enough to your tent that you can hear them swallow with only a sheet of canvas as protection at 2AM, you wake up pretty fast. In the morning, we emerge from our tents to find tree branches scattered all over camp, evidence of the pachyderms’ overnight feast.
            Hippos also love to graze here at night, making their presence known with what sounds just like helicopter rotors: defecating while flinging their tails so that poop flies in various directions. The good news is that they favor the opposite side of camp from my tent (sorry Erin!).

            We all miss the companionship of the furry friends we left behind at home, so seeing familiar faces in camp throughout the day brings an element of comfort and homeyness to life here. While I never expected to share my front “lawn” with a warthog, I’m so glad I do and have grown increasingly fond of our numerous FisiCamp mascots. We may not have a “pet” honey badger, but I think we’re all quite ok with that!

Current RA pets!
Top row, left to right: Luke, Nola, Rocky, Jax
Bottom row: Oreo ("the amazing furious chihuahua"), Roscoe, Binx, Sparkie

Referenced book: Allison, P. (2008). Whatever you do, don’t run: True tales of a Botswana safari guide. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press.

Photos: Personal photos from Emily Ronis, Ciara S.G. Main, Jared Grimmer, Spencer Freeman, and Erin Person (thanks guys!)



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