What day is it even?

Things have been completely non-stop here lately! If you follow the Karingani social media pages @karinganimozambique, you are probably pretty up-to-date, but if you don’t then go follow them! One of my jobs here is managing the social media accounts so all those post you see from Karingani and most of the photos are my doing. 😊 But if you are slacking behind – in the past week plus we have darted a lion three times (once to administer a TB test, once to check the results of the TB test and finally when he was confirmed negative for TB, we were able to pack him up and ship him out of here). I have a whole story written up about that particular lion’s story, but you will either have to check out Karingani’s pages or wait until I can post the full blog.

Also last week, we caught up with the Mbilu wild dog pack who have two of the females (alpha female, Albie and beta female, Nonisa) currently denning! Wild dogs typically give birth to 8-12 puppies each year around May-July. Generally, the alpha female will be the only one to breed each year. However, occasionally another female, often the beta (second in rank), will fall pregnant as well. Depending on the pack dynamics, prey availability and other factors researchers are still investigating, if a non-alpha female gives birth to puppies, one of four things usually happens – 1) the litter is killed by the pack, 2) the alpha female ‘adopts’ the puppies and raises them alongside her own, 3) the beta female splits from the pack with one or more other pack members and starts her own pack, or 4) the female is allowed to raise her litter along with the pack. Now while these scenarios are not necessarily set in stone, nothing truly is when it comes to wild dogs, they are the most commonly recorded scenarios through observation.

I am anxious to find out more information about the Mbilu pack dynamics with both Albie and Noni having pups. But since we found the den site only about one or two weeks after the pack had settled, we did not want to push too much and had work to do, so we kept as far away from the actually dens as we could. We darted the pack’s alpha (and only) male, Lightning to place a satellite tracking collar on him.

The pack will generally stay at the same den site until the puppies are mobile enough to move on their own and then eventually the entire pack will relocate to a new den site. This helps prevent flea infestations as well as protects the young pups from being discovered by other carnivores which might try and kill them. Having both Albie and Lightning with satellite collars will allow us to be able to track the pack even if they do move den sites. I am really hoping to get back to the den once the puppies are a little bit older and see how many puppies there are and what the pack dynamics are like with the puppies. The alpha female, Albie and some of her daughters are quite special dogs to me. They were the very first wild dogs that I had ever seen and worked with! I helped move and collar Albie and pack back in 2017 in Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa! How cool is that? Small world, hey?

And of course, I am sure you are wanting a new Hedwig update. She is doing great, getting even fatter and fluffier if that is possible! I am so amazed by how far she has come. She is now standing and hobbling around pretty efficiently as well! She can also now eat two whole (well chopped up) but two flipping mice at her big feedings, she is most definitely no longer lacking an appetite!

Also I need to add a disclaimer for those following this blog via email subscription… my WiFi here is very poopy and so the easiest way for me to share blogs that have photos that I have taken with my phone is to first publish the blog and then go back on my phone and edit it, but that means those of you reading in your e-mails or who are REALLY fast as checking out my latest post might miss some or all of the photos. I have tried saving just as a draft and not publishing but for some stupid reason my phone says no to that idea. So, I suggest giving it a few minutes and actually clicking to go to the blog page instead of just checking out the email version. Sorry if that makes things difficult.

Then there are days like today and I cannot get the dangnabbit WordPress app to work at all so you are going to have to deal with the photos in here until probably tomorrow. Sorry about that.

Diesel

This is one of the hardest posts I have ever written. For eleven years I have had only one wish. Every single shooting star, every single blowing out of candles, every single “star light, star bright” and every time I caught the clock on 11:11 – I only had one wish. I never told that wish to a single person, not once in all these years. My wish was an on going one. And it did come true. My wish was always “I wish that Diesel has a long, happy, healthy life.” And he did.

But now my heart has broken into a million pieces as I had to say goodbye to my very best friend today.

I was 19 when Diesel came into my life. It was just after my freshman year of university. I remember my mom firmly telling me “no” over and over again when I told her I was going to get a puppy. And so I did not tell her where I was going that night on the 3rd of July. She was so angry when I came home with this snuggly brown ball of fur with a white tipped tail. He was my first dog that was mine and not the family’s dog. I knew the anger would not last long when I caught her cuddling with him when she thought I was in a different room. The very next day we started our adventures together and we went to the Geyer’s for a Fourth of July celebration. Diesel sat quietly in my lap and just watched the fireworks. He was such a good puppy. He was so smart, he never barked and he never chewed up anything. Potty training went quick. Alice would sneak up quietly when she worked night shifts and would pick him up from my bed and carry him out to go potty in the middle of the night. But it was not long before he could no longer easily be carried. He grew so big, so fast. I worked at the vet clinic that summer and he would come with me to work every day, we were rarely ever apart. Everyone who met him quickly fell in love with his soft brown eyes.

It was not long before summer came to an end and Diesel came back with me to West Virginia to my first ever apartment. On his first birthday party we held a celebration for him, and all his doggy friends came over. This became a tradition and Diesel’s birthday parties became ever grander with each year! We would hike the Appalachian Mountains together and go on camping excursions. He befriended my housemates and fell in love with the neighbours’ husky, Meeka. Soon my time at university came to and end and Diesel and I moved to Pittsburgh.

Growing up and those early years of adulthood were tough at times for me. I learned who I am, and I started becoming the woman I am today. And Diesel was always there. He was there for the tough days at university and starting out in the “real” world, he was there for the fun parties, there through the relationships and break-ups, the many moves and new houses. He was always there for me, no matter what. He was my rock. He was my absolute best friend.

Diesel was the most gentle of giants. During my time as a zookeeper, I had to bring various animals home for extended care. Diesel was always “mom” to each and every one of them. He cuddled with baby goats and monkeys and became a patient jungle gym for a very hyper-active binturong. Diesel even adopted a cat. When I brought home this tiny little ginger and white kitten, it ran straight up to Diesel and immediately started to cuddle and try to nurse on Diesel’s fur. Optimus Prime and Diesel became such good friends. There was hardly ever a time when they would sleep apart from each other and Diesel was always so gentle when he wrestled with OP, even if the cat used his claws.

Making the decision to follow my lifelong dream and move to Africa to work in conservation was bittersweet. I was heading to a place where Diesel could not join me. I looked into the process and really made solid plans to bring him with me, but then I had to pause a second and really think deep about it. At seven years old, he was already quite an old boy, especially for such a big dog. A 32-hour plane ride in the cargo section would have been extremely stressful on him. Since moving to Namibia, I have already moved around more times that I can even count and have lived in two other countries since then. It would not have been fair on Diesel who is such a settled dog by nature. A year after I left, he needed specialised surgery and months of rehab which he would not have been able to get if he had come with me. While leaving him was extremely hard on me, I knew it was the right decision for him. And he forgave me for it. Every single time I went back to America he was always so happy to see me, and we instantly picked up as if we were never even apart. My sister and her family adopted Diesel when I left, and I am more grateful to them than they will ever know. They gave him the most incredible and loving home in his senior years. They gave him the best veterinary and medical care as he aged and helped him through the rehab after his surgery. He became “Do-Do” to my little nephew, Atlas, and a companion to my older nephew, Christopher. He moved from Virginia Beach to Frederick, Maryland with them. And he even put up with Cable the Great Dane using him as a chair and play toy.

I received the difficult call from Erin near the end of last year. Diesel had developed cancer and while he was currently doing well, there was no idea as to how much longer he had. I made a plan and flew halfway across the world just to be able to spend two last weeks with my boy. We spent a special evening at the park and went on a walk through to woods at my parents’ place, but most of the days were relaxing on the couch as he got quite tired and sore much more easily. But I will always cherish those days. Every time I had to fly back to Africa, saying goodbye to Diesel was always the hardest part of the trip. But at the end of this last trip, we had to make our hardest goodbye yet, for I knew it would be the very last one.

Diesel managed to make it to 11. He was incredibly happy and was mostly very healthy until the end of his long life. So, all in all, my wish came true.

Thank you, Diesel, for being the absolute bestest boy and for your most amazing companionship. They say throughout your lifetime you will love all of your pets, but you will have that one, once-in-a-lifetime dog. He was my first dog and starting my adult life growing up with Diesel helped to define who I am. He taught me about unconditional love and was the greatest friend I could have ever asked for.

I am glad you are no longer in pain, but I hate to think of a world without you in it. My heart does not know how it is going to ever completely heal from this. And I do love my boy, Ryno to the moon and back, he is also such a great boy. But there will always be a very special piece of my heart which will be forever missing. I always called you my soul-puppy, and you were, and always will be, exactly that.

Goodbye, my Diesel Weasel.

It is normal to take your owl fishing, right?

Good morning. I put too much cream in my coffee… I normally drink my coffee black with no sugar, but I made some homemade ice cream the other day (which is delicious!!) and have some leftover cream so figured I would put a spoonful in my coffee this morning as a ‘treat.’ Nope. There is a reason I drink my coffee black. Ah well.

Hedwig is doing great, she is getting bigger and stronger every day. I have her in a small box/nest with narrow sides which help support her as she is still working on strengthening up her legs. With the help of the box she can now fully stand upright and almost looks like an owl!! Also her appetite has increased tenfold and she now eats a whole mouse (chopped up) per feeding. I have mucho respect for mama barn owls, I have no clue how they manage to feed eight of these little monsters at once.

Over the weekend Ellery (the warden) and his family invited me to join them to go down to the Nuanetsi River for a day of fishing and for a nice braai. Of course, Hedwig joined along. I guess it is not everyday you have the opportunity to take your owl to a braai.

Hedwig in her ‘nest’

From our braai spot we could see South Africa. Sigh. So close, yet so far. It is amazing how much South Africa has truly become home to me. My heart yearns for it. Damn Coronavirus.

The colourful green bark of the fever tree
Ellery’s massive catch of the day
This is a braai

It was a lovely and much needed day out. Our spot was nestled next to the river and some stunning rock cliffs. There was a pod of hippos that kept popping there heads up throughout the day to keep a cautious eye on us. The weather was perfect throughout the day, the sun was warm, but not hot and there was a constant breeze. The fishing were biting like mad and Ellery and Rhalda’s kids were having such a jol catching them piercing the air with joyous screams of “FISH ON!” each time they had a bite on the line. We braai’d braaibroodjies and wors. Hmm…. I just realised I should probably make a South African slang translation post for you Americans reading along… stay tuned, I will get on that now! We packed up as it started getting dark to make our way back to Mbilu (the reserve headquarters where most of us live and where the offices are), which was about a 2-3 hour drive. I even spotted a cheeky hyena checking out the braai site as we were packing up.

We spotted a chameleon on the way back!

All in all it was a wonderful day.