ChitterChatter – February 2018
At the end of 2017, as is tradition in the EWT, the ~95 staff members of the EWT convened for our annual Conservation Week, this time in the homely little town of Parys. The week is an opportunity for our team, which is normally spread across the vastness of our beautiful country and several of our neighbours, to share stories, knowledge and experiences; socialise and team build; and strategise for the year ahead. A favourite on the EWT calendar, the 2017 Week did not disappoint and great memories were made for everyone. Memories were also shared, and some of the most special moments of 2017 were captured by our numerous intrepid photographers and film-makers and compiled into a heart-warming, hilarious and inspirational video by Ian Little – a slightly sanitised version of which is available for our members and partners to enjoy watching here.
The nature of the EWT’s work is to be in the field, making a difference where it matters the most. As a result, video footage of spectacular landscapes and exhilarating wildlife often makes for jealous office staff, whose offices do not vaguely resemble pristine beaches, rolling hills or Big Five reserves. However, the tiny gems of wildlife that still exist in our urban environments are not be overlooked or cast aside. In Johannesburg, we are surrounded by millions of trees that are home to thousands of birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals. If you just open your eyes and ears, you will be astounded to see who shares out city with us!
I had a wonderful family move into the tree outside my office window in November. A Hadeda Ibis couple built their (very rickety and unsafe looking) nest in the highest branches (my office is on the top floor) of a Water Pear (Syzygium guineese) tree and in time, had produced three large, speckled eggs. During the December break, either one or all of the eggs hatched, and if the latter, something happened to two of the chicks. Because when I returned in January, I was greeted by the clicking sound of one very hungry, fluffy young Hadeda balancing precariously on an increasingly insecure collection of sticks held together by bird poo and not much else. Throughout the month, the parents of this gangly creature took turns to watch over it or collect its food. Despite gale force winds, hailstorms and torrential rains, the little fluffball held on for dear life and it was with trepidation that I arrived at work every day to gingerly peer out of my window and see if he was still alive. By gingerly, I mean creeping up to the window, as, practically from birth, it was clear that mom and pop Hadeda had instilled in their chick a mortal terror of human beings and a hissing, fluffing of wings and an open beak to scare me was what greeted me if they even vaguely saw my shadow appear. This made me sad.
As Mother Nature is all-powerful, the survival skills of this little chick were remarkable and reminded me again of how natural resilience exists in so many species whilst human beings appear to be far needier and less happy with a bed of sticks and a diet of grubs.
I learned a lot from my own “field experience” that I too can share, so it is not just my staff working with Wild Dogs or cranes that have cool stories. Lessons from the Hadeda family:
- The bond between a mother and her child, of almost any animal, is unique, powerful, all prevailing and should garner respect from all humans. It is not just humans who will die for their young, and whose sole purpose is to protect, teach and develop their offspring. We should respect that a LOT more in our fellow species.
- Wild animals naturally distrust and fear humans. With good reason no doubt. We should not simply accept that as our right as apex predators, and we should never exploit that fear. Instead, we should learn to be more humble about the fact that we are the MOST feared species on earth. By everyone.
- Life is about a few simple rules. Food and water, shelter, parental love and protection, learning, and growing. If we don’t grow, we die. Interpret that in a number of ways.
- Take only that which you need. And live lightly. Despite Hadedas sometimes reusing old nests, my neighbour’s home finally succumbed to the ravages of a Gauteng thunderstorm and there is now almost no sign at all that any life even existed on those branches. Fortunately, fluffball was sitting further along the branches at the time and seemed to have moved out by then.
- Focus on what we have and what can do in the future. I will never know what happened to the other two eggs/chicks, or if the Hadeda parents lamented their loss, but I am guessing that the full time job it was to raise one healthy, strong and demanding youngster was all that they could manage and more than kept their days busy. Darwinian theories aside, we need to trust in the future that we are building and not stay hung up on the past.
- Above all, look around you. See life through the eyes of others; appreciate other animals’ risks, threats, fears, needs, aspirations and their role in building a colourful and thriving world. Give more than you take.
The photo that I managed to get is particularly bad as I was creeping in the dark around the back end of my window, but it’s a tribute to the little squawker that is probably yelling outside your window right now and may be annoying you as only a Hadeda can. But I love that sound now. For the little bit of field that was brought into my top story office, no matter how less glamourous than a Cheetah he may have been. Nature is all around us, aren’t we blessed! And he may even make into the next edition of the EWT’s Conservation Week video tribute at the of this year!
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