After about a year in the bush I began to wonder whether we would ever be called upon to take care of a wildlife orphan. I had read several accounts of this happening to other people living in the wilds and, knowing it to be no easy task, wondered how we would manage.

Jurie, being a biologist, insisted that nature should not be interfered with. There are a variety of reasons for young animals being abandoned: a mother may leave her youngster if it is weak or sickly, or if she herself is unable to care for it and, hard as it is to accept such a fate, it should be left to die. However, for Jurie and I there was one exception to this general rule: if human hands had had something to do with the young being abandoned then we owed the animal a chance of survival. I agreed wholeheartedly with this philosophy and felt that if such an animal, truly in need of care, crossed our path, so be it. As a consequence there have been several periods during which we have shared our lives with furry or feathery friends.
One December evening we received a frenzied radio call from Martin, our neighbour I have already made mention. He had been out hunting impala when he missed his target and shot a ewe by mistake. Her five-day-old lamb had been left standing beside its dead mother while the rest of the herd disappeared into the darkness. Martin, quite agitated, said he was coming over to us. He arrived in the camp with this tiny female impala lamb in his arms. I promptly took her from him, having decided this was one of those moments where it would be okay to take care of a wild orphan. She was finely built, with legs barely thicker than my thumb. Her ears and eyes were enormous and her heart-shaped nose wet, pitch black, and quivering. I could see that her sharp hooves could be dangerous should she start to struggle, so wrapped her in a blanket.
For a long time I battled against telling a fib. I felt I had to tell our guests something, such as, that our neighbour had found her all alone and so had brought her to us to look after, which would seem contrary to our general policy cited above. For some reason I just could not get the truth - that her mother had been shot - out of my mouth. I guess it was because I was so angry. Angry, as it was so unnecessary and senseless to kill a ewe at that time of the year. Yes, hunting was something we undertook to provide meat for our staff and guests, but not at the cost of a ewe with a baby.
Anyway, the lamb had to eat, and to make it start feeding was easier said than done! I borrowed a human baby’s bottle from housekeeper Bongi Dlamini, filled it with diluted cow’s milk, and sort of assumed the little thing would just start drinking on its own. By the following morning she had yet even to consider taking a sip. We feared that she would weaken quickly, so Jurie phoned Karen Trendler at the animal rehabilitation centre, ARC, as it was known at the time. We explained the circumstances and were quickly put straight concerning a number of things we were doing wrong. First of all, young animals in the wild often have their buts licked by their mothers to stimulate their sucking response! We were startled, and hesitant about trying that approach ourselves! Another option was to wipe their rear end with a moist sponge, which we reckoned we could handle far more easily! Then we were given a recipe for her diet: full cream cow’s milk, and fresh cream, and egg yolk. No cheap, easy food for this little thing; on the contrary, costly gourmet bottles every couple of hours. Then we mentioned that we had two bull terriers and asked whether we should keep them separate from the lamb. To our surprise Karen suggested we introduce the four-legged siblings to one another; perhaps it would help the impala to relax in her foreign surroundings. Naturally we thought the older, more sedate, bitch would be the best bet, but Bingo would have none of it. Next option was Douglas, rather an exuberant dog to say the least of it. We let him into the room and the two of them bonded instantly! He licked her rear end immediately, and a few minutes later she was drinking her first bottle.
We had no adequate housing facilities for Victoria, as she was later named, so she slept with Doug on a large pillow at the side of my bed. We hung hessian cloth over the windows so she would not try to jump through the glass, and during the day she had the run of the lodge garden. It was almost as if she thought we were her herd; she was never far from her foster ‘mother’ Doug. So much for the vicious temperament that has been the portrayed stereotype for English bull terriers. Victoria was named after the ‘Victorinox’ pocket-knife, as she would fold up so neatly when she lay down for a nap, far more apt than the horrid names of ‘Rations’ or ‘Nyama’ (meat) that we had started off calling her, tongue in cheek, of course!
It was not long before Victoria began eating with the dogs and helping herself to Dogmor pellets. She was growing at quite a rate: we sometimes speculated that she might reach kudu proportions on her rich and unusual diet. In our day-to-day interaction with her we started noticing some obviously impala characteristics. As an individual she was not the cleverest of animals, but, rather, she was wired into a herd mentality which meant safety in numbers was a good option. She was quite happy to follow the dogs or us around, and as long as she was not trailing too far behind she was very content. Initially we struggled to get her back into our hut at night. Simply trying to chase her in clearly did not work: one afternoon she even ran off into the rain, returning only the next day. A successful method then occurred to us. Jurie, the dogs, and I would walk as a group into our hut, and without any fuss at all little Vikki would just follow!
Once she had settled into her new home and family we started taking her for walks in the bush, showing her watering points near to camp. From the start we had known her place was back in the wild, but she would have to link up with a herd of real impala to have a chance of survival. The best we could do was to keep her fit and healthy and show her the lie of the land in our territory.
She was with us for eight months before she started leaving us, for a day at a time, with various animals that passed by the camp. She tried out zebras, waterbuck, and kudu on different occasions, but always came back the mornings after, for loving nuzzles with Douglas and the occasional scone off the breakfast table.
One day Jurie was heading off into the bush on his motorbike with Victoria and the dogs in tow when he spotted a herd of impala close to the lodge. He stopped and switched the engine off to see what would happen. He said that when Vikki noticed them she became tense and began trotting towards them. Then the male impala broke off from the others and herded her into his harem. Jurie immediately came back to camp to tell me what had happened. Even though it was fairly sad for us the inevitable happy relocation had occurred.
That was not the last we saw of young Victoria! A couple of weeks later we were hosting our provincial beauty queen and a TV crew, in the run up to the Miss South Africa beauty pageant, when Victoria arrived for breakfast. The cameraman got some “made to order” shots of the beauty queen feeding Vikki some fresh scones and strawberry jam! That over, Vikki walked out of the camp and to rejoin her impala herd. We saw her once or twice again when we were out on game drives. How did we identify her? It was easy. She was the only impala to break away from the herd and run up to the vehicle as the others scattered!
You may ask what I have derived from this special facet of our lives: a great deal. I have gained a huge respect for, and an in-depth knowledge of, one of Southern Africa’s most common antelope. I have smelt the musky odour that impala exude from the black patches on their heads and ankles. I have felt the lanolin-like oiliness on my fingers after stroking her. I have learned that Victoria was a wild animal and no amount of human contact was ever going to domesticate her and turn her into a pet. I have watched her regurgitating balls of food in waves up her neck when she wanted to chew the cud. I have had her groom my hair with her slightly mobile bottom incisors while in return I groomed her flanks with a fine toothcomb. The lodge guests were also fascinated by her, and from close contact with her learned much that was not easy to learn from merely observing impalas in the bush. Perhaps they also came to realize she was a wild animal with instincts honed to a different perspective from theirs, and that alone may have been value enough.
Victoria was about eight months old when she found her rightful place back with a herd in the bush. During her last month or so with us she had to share her bed not only with a bull terrier, but with a monkey as well. Old man Philemon Mkansi had called us from Gowrie Camp to tell us there was a baby monkey very high up in a marula tree, screaming, presumably for its mother. Philemon said there had been a leopard in camp the previous night, but could not be sure of what had happened. However, the day was moving on and this youngster needed attention.
Jurie went out on his motorbike with a soft bag over his shoulder, and arrived back at the lodge an hour or so later with a small lump clutching his chest. Once again we got on the phone to various rehabilitation centers and were advised that bottle-feeding with Soya milk should start as soon as possible. As we guessed this little monkey would also need some external stimulation to get it going, and who better to call on than our wet-nurse, Douglas!
We never gave this monkey a name, but he was with us for about two weeks while we encouraged the local wild troop to take him on. Someone from an animal rehabilitation center had told us that, if we had a wild monkey troop in our vicinity with youngsters of the same age as our little charge, it was quite likely a mother would take him into her care. Every time the wild monkeys were around we put him out on the lawn in the open, with each time the wild troop coming closer and closer. Between these sessions Doug, Victoria, and the monkey would be seen walking around or taking naps together. Without too much ado ‘our’ monkey did join the troop.
Doug began getting a reputation for taking his mothering role very seriously, an odd label for a male bull terrier. A couple of months later our neighbours picked up a stranded impala lamb that needed to take food from a bottle. They had been trying unsuccessfully to get it to drink for more than a day, but the baby was getting weaker. We suggested they take Doug on ‘loan’ and see what would happen. They came and collected him. Within an hour the lamb was feeding, and we got our dog back.
One of the creatures sharing our lives at various times was an Egyptian goose. Neighbours, who were out for Christmas holidays, had started rearing a gosling they had found. Before returning home they handed it over to us because it clearly would not enjoy living in suburban Johannesburg for the rest of its life. It was a fluffy little ball and very specific about its dietary requirements. This entailed our running around with a butterfly net catching grasshoppers and large insects, the more the better! The goose grew at a rapid rate and latched onto Jurie as its ‘mother’. Anyone else showing affection for Jurie was warned off with a fierce attack on the ankles. The goose soon outgrew the birdbath, so then made the swimming pool its home. Although it was a rather smelly creature it was quite homey and fun to take dips with a goose for company. We were unable to release it back into the wild as we had hoped, but, as events turned out, we were later pleased we had spent the time we did learning what we could about this little feathered friend.
To read previous chapters of “Our African Way”, please click the following link:

Our African Way