My roommate's a giraffe!


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Africa » South Africa » Gauteng
August 12th 2009
Published: October 26th 2009
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I had a new morning duty starting today - nursery! I wasn't too worried about it since the two cubs have gone to cub world. There was one morning after the cubs had a slight toilet problem followed by the realisation it's fun to slide in that I was exceptionally glad I wasn't responsible for cleaning it up! There have been days when we've been ready to throw up on entrance to the nursery and I've been glad I only ever had to grab a broom and run back outside to the trucks. The nursery seemed clean and relatively fresh smelling as Glenn, Tara and I walked in.
No-one else was in nursery so we were a little unsure where to start. Since I have fed the meerkats before I decided I could find the fruit and cat food and get started on that, although for the first five minutes we were distracted by the six bundles of white fluff mewling under their heat lamp in the corner. T-K arrived and got Glenn and Tara mixing up the cubs food and Georgina's bottle and then gave me the hurried instruction to move Nigel the baby steenbok from his cage into the outdoor pen and put his food in there with him. She told me to chase him into a corner of the cage with a broom handle and then grab him, adding the warning that 'he kicks, hold his legs away from you'. Tara stayed to help me while Glenn set off down to cub world with the breakfasts.
Nigel and I eyed each other up. Now steenboks are very tiny creatures. I have seen one in the wild and was struck by just how tiny and delicate it looked and since Nigel is a baby he is even smaller and more harmless looking. Still I was wary of picking him up and when Kirsty walked into nursery asked for a second opinion on the best way to capture and hold the little deer. She stood by the broom herding method and told me simply to pick him up around the middle, hold the legs away from me and move as fast as I can. Tara and I continued trying to corner Nigel but he is quite sprightly and simply leapt over the broom handle each time it came near him. I started to feel like a bit of a bully chasing this tiny creature around his cage while he looked at me with liquid eyes and stood trembling. I put away the broom and decided to talk him over to the door of the cage. Slowly he crept forward to sniff my hand and even let me stroke him. I grabbed him around the waist, pulled him from the cage holding his legs out in front and instantly realised just how deciving the small, cute, delicate appearance is! He is so strong! He kicked his legs wildly and if he'd been on the ground instead of waving his legs in the air he would have been out of sight and beyond reach in seconds. Adrenaline pumping I raced towards the outdoor pen which is literally only just outside the nursery. I couldn't even hold Nigel for 10 steps but fortunately as he slipped from my grasp as was at the door of the enclosure and could throw him in, shutting the wooden gate behind him. I stood panting, observing Nigel through the gaps int he wooden boards. He ran in a half circle and then calmed down. He stood carefully, front legs neatly together, blinking at me with huge black eyes and looking far too sweet considering one stray kick of his hooves could have broken my jaw. I walked back into nursery and Tara and I took Nigel his food and water, while he scuttled to a corner and stood nose quivering at us.
I decided to take the meerkats their food and when I returned the others had already gone to feed Georgina. Emily came into nursery dragging a bucket she'd brought up from the enclosures and was supposed to clean. Instead she was complaining about the dubious contents of the bucket despite the fact T-K and Kirsty both came past and assured her it was just sand and dust. Judging by the smell coming from the bucket I was with Emily on saying it wasn't just sand in there. I found a nice large roll of paper and helped Emily clean out the bucket, and then helped with the washing up as Glenn brought Georgina's bottles back.
When finally nursery duty was over I hurried down to cub world to join the cubs. I hung my bag and fleece on the hooks, and happily let myself in with the babies. The visitors were already starting to arrive and looked in enviously as the volunteers gathered inside (although technically we should only have four of us in there at a time) and the cubs leapt on us for morning fun and games. The cubs are getting distinctly grubby and the white cubs are no longer white. The two new additions amongst the younger cubs seem to be fitting in well although Leah is considerably smaller than the others, presumably due to her illness. I didn't have a shift until 11am so I had plenty of time to play with the cubs. I did have one cub who discovered the delights of shoelaces and chewed mine almost through. When I tried to knock him off before my shoelace broke he sat on my foot and held my ankle with his paws, claws out just so I realised exactly what he could do if I took his new toy away. I am definitely going to have to see if my shoes can go in the washing machine. Beside having laces faryed and slick with cub slobber they seem to have aquired a distinct aroma of lion poo. Since I havn't trodden in anything I think the cubs have rolled in their own muck and then climbed all over me.
I was on giraffe duty with Em-J at 11. We sat and chatted for a while and then I told Em-J to go and see the cubs as she'd already had a morning shift and hadn't been to see them yet. I watched them playing from a distance and sat in the sun, and occasionally chatted to visitors and sold packets of feed. At least today has been slightly busier although nothing like my first weekend here.
I also spent a good part of my time keeping my eye on the giraffes. Apparently Purdy has given up breaking into our campsite today and instead has been trying to break into Georgina's pen. Goergina was originally taken away from her mother as Purdy showed no interest in her as a baby. Gambit often comes to visit Georgina and stands on the other side of her fence but Purdy usually just ignores her. However Purdy has started to try and get into Georgina's pen a lot recently and the staff have been a bit concerned so we have to keep an eye on them to make sure Georgina isn't looking distressed at all. I hope it is simply that Purdy wants to be near Georgina again. It would be lovely to see the family together, although Georgina is supposed to be kept seperate for several more weeks before being released to the main field and be free to roam with all the other animals.
When Em-J returned I walked up to the cafe to get lunch as I didn't fancy walking back to camp to cook. My food took a ridiculous amount of time to arrive - 40 minutes to get a cheese toastie! Still the food here is very good and costs next to nothing and there's plenty in the curio shop to look at while I wait.
After lunch I ran back to the giraffes to release Em-J for some more cub play and at 1pm moved onto cub world gate. I was supposed to be sharing shift duty with Emily. She asked if I would take the first part of the shift as she and Carmel had been asked to help the staff with some wedding photographs that were taking place in the Lion Park. In the end she never returned and I had to sit out the full two hours on my little wooden chair! poor me! One of the waiters came to cheer me up and when I asked his name he looked surprised and said he thought everyone knew his name as it's 'Lion'. I almost believed it was his nickname when he laughed and admitted he is actually called Steven.
At 3pm I was finally free to leave the gate and I walked straight back down to cub world. I let myself into the older cubs enclosure and found three of the bigger cubs all curled up in their little wooden shelter. I joined them, sitting with my back against the fence. One cub woke up, looked sleepily over at me and then disentangled himself from the other cubs and came and collapsed beside me and sat obligingly while I practiced my skill at taking photos of myself one handed! I watched the visitors in the neighbouring enclosure and those wandering outside. One little girl stopped dead when she saw me with the cub on my lap and stood on tiptoe staring in asking 'Mummy why is that lady in there?'
I was starting to doze with the lions when Emily reappeared, with Carmel, a photographer.... and a couple in the their wedding clothes! I don't quite see the appeal of having wedding photographs taken with wild animals but it seems to be very popular in South Africa. I think it's great to be able to have pictures with the lions but I wouldn't be happy doing it in a long white dress! The couple were very smiley and excited about being in the park, plus they are the first mixed race South African couple I've met which made me instantly like them. I asked if I ought to leave but the photographer waved at me to stay put and since I had a lion in my lap I was in no rush to move. I sat and watched the couple having their pictures taken. They sat on the cubs' rocks and that lovely white dress was carefully spread out (thankfully Emily, Jen, Carmel and Iris, all did a fantastic job of cleaning the enclosures this morning and there was no trace of lion droppings smeared on the rocks!) Carmel went next door to fetch Leah as she is the smallest of the cubs and less inclined to wiggle and chew. The tiny cub was placed in the bride's lap and they had a few more photos. The photographer came to take a picture of the lion on my lap and asked if she could use flash. I told her to have a go and if I screamed it meant the lion had sunk its claws into me! Fortunately my cub was far to sleepy to bother and posed nicely for the pictures. The photographer was getting even more gooey over the cubs than the bride and groom and got very excited when Carmel picked Leah up again and the cub started sucking on her finger. Carmel offered the cub to the photgrapher and she excitedly swapped her camera for the lion squealing about how much she loves her job and thanking the newlywed couple for bringing her here for the photo shoot.
Enily apologised for leaving me to do a 2 hour shift solo and explained they had taken two of the baby white lions out to take photos with the couple. I was very surprised to hear that. We are not allowed to even touch the young cubs as they haven't had all their innoculations and yet the staff were happy to let them outside with the couple! Guess that shows what happens to rules when enough money is involved! It's a bit disappointing to realise that money can bend the rules even when the cubs health is involved, but apparently only Carmel and Emily were actually allowed to touch the cubs so maybe the rules about us not touching them is simply to keep handling by different people to a minimum and no harm will come from one or two extra people touching the cubs.
I spent the rest of my free time sitting idly with the cubs and then set of for feeding duty at 4pm. I joined Em-J and Nicole in the nursery and we prepared food for Nigel, the meerkats, Georgina and the cubs. I got to help make the cubs food for the first time. The cubs get a rather disgusting looking mix of milk, pellets and meat. The milk is made from Esbilac powdered milk formula mixed with boiled but colled water in a ration 1 cup of powder:2 cups water. The milk is added to pre-soaked pellets and sometimes fresh meat is thrown on top. We were told not to prepare any food for the older cubs as they were going to be getting larger pieces of meat. We also made Georgina's milk and the meerkats food. We carried everything down and I climbed in with the meerkats to give them their dinner. They all shot into their burrows as I got in although the bravest of the three came out and excitedly clambered all over my shoes as I put the food down. I joined the others down by Georgina's pen and we took turns at bottle feeding the little giraffe whoose appetite has certainly increased as she guzzled all four and a half bottles we'd brought and probably would have had more if there had been any.
After doing the washing up back at nursery we watched the older cubs being fed. The meat was flung over the fencing and the 6 month old cubs tore into it. The youngest cubs were already face down in their bowls and the older cubs didn't seem to understand why they didn't have a bowl of food. One little cub actually dragged his bowl several metres and placed it directly in front of the interconnecting fence, tormenting his friends by munching right in front of them while they whined and tried to get through the wire.
Finally the meat pieces were brought for our own older cubs who were very excited about getting their grown up food and looked like they were in seventh heaven as they gnawed on bloody bones and growled at each other when they thought their share was being threatened.
We stayed in with the cubs as it began to grow dark and then shortly after the park closed the staff asked us to leave. We successfully pleaded to stay with the cubs and the staff rolled their eyes and left us to it (perhaps after a few months the novelty of being around lions wears off... I find it hard to imagine though!)
We stayed until quite late but left as it grew too dark to keep a proper eye on the cubs, especially after one of the white ones practiced his hunting skills and leapt of the rock at my back!
We returned to camp and dispersed to our tents, the kitchen or the showers. The weather has got a bit nippy today and it looked like we could be in for a bit of a storm. I got quite a surprise after dinner when I walked back across the field in the dark and saw Purdy sitting beside the tent! Apparently she had actually leapt over the fence! I can't quite imagine a giraffe jumping so high, they always look too ungainly. I would have loved to see it. Purdy seemd quite content to have finally broken into our camp and spent the entire night with us, sitting beside the tent in the light from a lantern. Perhaps she just wanted company during the bad weather. She looked really sweet though curled up on the ground. When she got tired she swung her long neck around and rested her head on her own back and dozed off.


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I got my dinner first!I got my dinner first!
I got my dinner first!

This cub actually dragged the bowl from several metres away and placed it here to torment his friends!


26th October 2009

I think those cubs would compete with my reception class of little ones. All cute and lovely for the first 20 minutes of the day and then the characters emerge. Another lovely blog. I feel I am there with the animals. Thanks for sharing those great memories.
27th October 2009

Awesome stuff!
Hiya!! Love ur stories from Gauteng. Been to Tiger Temple last year. Cub World seems to be much more fun!! Hope to see them all soon. Keep postin' the pics though. They are incredible :)

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