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Jackal meets serval: A love story

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I love reading Sarah Carter’s writings from the Bally Vaughan animal sanctuary.

Here is a small excerpt from her latest newsletter:

When Bart the Jackal arrived, having been found on the university campus, he was a tiny fluffy scrap, almost catatonic with fear. For several months he haunted the marshy thickets at the bottom of his enclosure, constantly on the move once the sun went down, nowhere to be seen during daylight hours. I sat with him each evening as he chased flying ants and grasshoppers and the quicksilver little fish in the stream and he kept a cautious eye on me, circling within a metre or so on his endless, effortless laps, but no closer. I noticed that he was intensely interested in the caracals, serval and dogs living in my garden adjacent to his enclosure and showed no fear of them. At this stage, Rover the Wriggly Red Dog was a puppy and each day he would be carried up to the jackal enclosure for a play date with Bart. Bart adored this but Rover, ever the curmudgeon, loathed it and would sit with his back pointedly to the prancing little jackal, hogging the toys and hoovering  up Bart’s food even though he had usually just eaten his own breakfast. Eventually I gave up trying to rehabilitate the playground bully and Bart went back to relying on rather unsatisfactory interaction through the fence with my animals for company. Exchanging nose kisses with Smeegal the serval cat was part of his routine, and to my surprise Smeegal seemed to seek out the little jackal, lying along the fence line and watching his antics intently.

Smeegal came to us as a refugee from an invaded farm. A pampered and adored pet, he spent three happy years on the Chirundu sugar estates with Jon and Chooks Langerman, sleeping on their bed under the air conditioner and enjoying gourmet meals prepared for him by Jon. Life in my home was somewhat different. Detested by the xenophobic caracals and chased from the house by them at every opportunity (as they do to all visitors including members of my family), he took up residence in a little thatched structure in the garden, sneaking in to the house to unroll the toilet paper and chase the shampoo bottles round the bathtub when the caracals weren’t looking. Each evening he cut a solitary figure as he made his lonely way down the garden, and I felt that he was rather sad.

One evening I returned to my house to find Bart lolling triumphantly on my front lawn. He had tunneled under the fence and made himself totally at home. Unfazed by my dogs, deliriously defiant of the caracals and enamored of the huge serval cat, he set about organizing a life to his satisfaction. He pointedly ignored his own dinner of chopped chicken and offal in favour of the dog food and soon was getting his own portion in a green plastic dish on the lawn each evening. He adopted a teddy that he carried about until Harry the caracal ripped its head off and pulled out the insides, and he learnt that peanut butter toast is an excellent and delicious source of protein for an omnivore. Each morning as I sit down on my veranda with toast and coffee, Bart appears, trotting busily on his tiny feet, fabulously bouffant tail bouncing behind him like an outrageous fashion accessory, and snatches up pieces of toast I throw to him. The caracals firmly believe only they should receive hand-outs and stalk him relentlessly, but he relishes this. A jackal’s psyche is all about scavenging from scary predators, and he is so swift and so cunning that my portly, couch-lolling caracals have no hope of catching him.  (Harry the caracal’s reputation as a Fearless Super-Predator was  irrevocably damaged recently when he was discovered actually sitting on an enraged puff adder. Harry was oblivious to the potentially lethal threat under his capacious bottom and fortunately the puff adder seemed equally dense, striking furiously at the fence post in front of it as it struggled  to free itself from this inglorious situation).

Incredibly, Smeegal and Bart have become inseparable. These two unlikely companions, who would be sworn enemies in the wild as they compete for the same food, can be seen in my garden playing wild games of chase, grooming each other tenderly and sleeping curled up in their shared bedroom. Each morning they slumber in the sunshine together, nestled in picturesque harmony in the wild flowers bordering the stream. They love to hunt insects together, pouncing and leaping in the late afternoon light through the grass in search of grasshoppers, and one memorable moonlit night I saw the two of them hunting a bushbaby. They were so absorbed in their task, stalking silently through the silvery shadows, gazing intently up into the trees where the bushbaby was feeding, that they walked straight into each other, like two slapstick comedians, and gave each other a terrible fright. After a bit of muffled yelping and hissing, they sat down with their backs to each other and groomed themselves ferociously to regain their composure, watched with disgust from the window by the two irritable caracals who had been roused from my bed by the commotion.

At last, two creatures whose lives had been irrevocably altered by circumstances totally beyond their control have found a new and happy life, together. With two caracals, a serval cat, a jackal and two dogs living in my home, life is a little chaotic. Breakfast time degenerates into a melee every morning.  The caracals like to sit on their own chairs at the table. Quite often they jump on the table, knock over the coffee or lick the topping off the toast. They leap off their chairs when Bart appears and chase him with their lolloping, rabbity gait around the garden before returning to their seats to glower and hiss at the dogs who are relegated to the floor. Sometimes Harry, a true feline eminence, will casually extend an immense, savagely-clawed, furry foot and rest it on my wrist so he can wash it, licking my hand at the same time and purring intermittently, just a few breathy rumbles to indicate that he is content, before resuming his reign of terror amongst the other family members.

To find out more visit www.ballyvaughan.co.zw or email sarah [at] ballyvaughan [dot] co [dot] zw

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