Then and now

The boubou is singing from the boughs of the bougainvillea and the double-collared sunbird sips from the scarlet bottlebrush. But at my feet I survey the devastation caused by a visit from the guinea fowl. It has pecked away at every leaf on the spinach I planted last week, and scratched at the soil around the neat rows of seedlings waiting to establish themselves. It is probably a partner in crime with the porcupine, who helped himself to my spinach a while back. That is growing back apace, but all can be whipped away in the night without warning. The mole is causing even more devastation, although currently favouring tunnelling under the fence between us and the neighbour, leaving caverns beneath a thin layer of grass into which I regularly fall up to my knees. It’s only a matter of time before the baboon troops return, although they are currently in limbo without the alpha males which have been ‘culled’ as a restraining measure – how foolish Man is to selfishly destroy anything that irks him.

Many of us want to make ourselves less reliant on the foods that are produced commercially by growing our own vegetables and fruits, and a great deal of time, money and effort goes into setting up a vegetable patch or orchard. These are a magnet for the local wildlife, particularly after the severe drought of last summer and what may be an ongoing situation here in the Cape, with weather patterns entering unknown territory. Frequent wildfires, often deliberately set, have destroyed most of their natural foraging, and for those of us who live on the urban fringe, there is very little that can be done to deter them.

A number of wooden planters on my balcony have meanwhile solved the problem of growing herbs and gooseberries without snails, caterpillars and assorted pests having easy access, and even the hadedah has visited a few times to peck out the grubs that live in the soil – that at least can be classed as natural pest control!

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The above was the scenario three years ago. Much has changed since then and here is an update:

The guinea fowl population in Kommetjie has virtually disappeared. From flocks of up to 30, with dozens of tiny chicks running behind their mothers throughout the year, only three have been seen lately. We counted as the number of chicks dwindled ever y day through predation by the Pied Crows that have invaded and very few reached adulthood. The setting of traps in the bush near the lighthouse by persons unknown and unchecked may also contribute to their demise.

The baboons, which were returned to the village ostensibly for protection from vicious attacks by fighting dogs in the mountains taken there by persons unknown and unchecked, have wrought havoc on my vegetables, and that dilemma is now over – the Neighbourhood Farm up the road is well supported by me, taking all the stress out of trying to grow a few potatoes and a bunch or two of beetroot. Only the chillies survive. Oh, and the basil. Baboons don’t eat basil.

Of the porcupines that plagued us, no sign in three years and it would be sad if they have succumbed to predation by man. I stopped keeping a compost heap and planting bulbs in accessible places to discourage their visits and hopefully that has been the answer.

Thankfully, the most destructive of all, the mole rat, has gone to pastures new and I can once again walk through the garden without falling into a trench. Interestingly, the huge heaps of sand thrown up along the verges and fields seem to have disappeared, and there is the thought that the caracal which lives nearby is controlling the mole population.

The herbs remain in containers on the balcony, although baboons do pop by for the parsley from time to time. I grow enough for all of us.

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