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Archive for the ‘Pet care’ Category

Sunset feet

One of the things …

Having received requests to work my way toward the 50 things about Seychelles I sounded off about in a recent post, I’ve found time today … after scrubbing mold off kitchen walls, jettisoning a bunch of items I’d not bothered to look at in years, cleaning tenrec dens, picking up after poopy dogs and feeding the birds … to add another 10 to the list.

Since an election happens … again … in a couple of days, and since I’m sick to death of politics both here and abroad, it’s good to focus for a while on the weirdly mundane for a while.

So, here are some aspects of life for people in Seychelles that may seem a bit odd to inhabitants of other places, but are completely normal here …

12190030_10208223474013724_3256839163126993599_n1) We know our bananas. There are many varieties that grow here, and everyone can spot the difference between gabo, fig and San Jacques. We have big bananas, tiny bananas, sweet bananas and bananas for frying, yellow bananas, red bananas and green bananas. They are picked green, because we all know the aphorism:

Q:  How do you know when your      bananas are ready to be picked?          A:  They’re gone!

We have a bazillion uses for bananas. A regime (what a whole, huge bunch is called here) can contain anywhere from a dozen to a multitudinous slew of individual fruits attached, and all go ripe within days of each other. ‘No waste, no want’ being a dictate, putting all to good use is no small feat. From the usual banana bread to the more exotic katkat banann and banann ladob to cream pie to chips to ice cream topping, there are many options. A ripe regime inspires no little visiting, either, as we share out what we have, knowing full well it will come back to us bountifully in no time.

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Rhino beetles are cute!

 

2) We don’t mind critters. One cannot live in Seychelles for long without developing a tolerance, often even an affection for the small creatures who share our homes. Bugs and lizards are ubiquitous, so getting used to seeing them is a must. Skinks and geckos are quite entertaining, as is watching visitors go crazy at their presence.

I have been asked on occasion to write informational inserts for in-room packets for hotels because the panicked phrase, “There are BABY CROCODILES climbing the walls in my room!”, has been heard by those manning the night desk far too often.

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Awww … baby gecko!

I’m still no fan of big spiders and ants are a pain, but I’ve developed a fondness for rhinoceros beetles and stick insects and an appreciation for the skill of mason wasps.

3) We sometimes even share critters. My tenrecs love crunchy bugs and juicy worms, so I have been known to ask for donations from friends. Gay has a compost heap that is full of worms … which reminds me; I need to get up to her place and see if she has enough now to spare a dozen.

4) We organize our complaints. Service isn’t always what it should be, so after a spate of crappy Internet or an erratic electricity supply friends put their heads together and coordinate gripes.

5) We talk about death. Our own deaths, to be exact. Since most of us expats have little-to-no family, no next-of-kin, within a few thousand miles, planning for our eventual demise is just part of what friends do. Our out-of-country connections are shared, as well as the details on what we want done with our empty husks.

6) We obey the laws … sometimes. Seychelles has as many laws as anywhere, but some do seem to be more like suggestions. For example, it is illegal to park on double yellow lines, to overtake on a solid white line, to use a phone while driving, yet every shop along the road has cars and trucks parked on double yellows, any drive at the speed limit will have you passed in no-passing areas by dozens of cars, trucks and busses, and it seems every other driver has a phone stuck to his ear. It is also illegal to have tinted windows on a car. (Who was that? Don’t know … the windows were tinted.) Legislation was passed a few years ago banning building on mountaintops, but that apparently does not apply if you happen to own one of the United Arab Emirates.

7) We entertain other peoples’ visitors. No one visits Seychelles for a weekend; even a week is far too short a time for many. It takes a couple of days to get here from most places, so 10 days is routinely calculated as the minimum stay. That’s great, most of the time. Since this place is so very different, very few guests are up to getting out and about on their own. For working people, this can put quite a strain on their time. Then, of course, there are the difficult guests … grumpy parents, that weird uncle, the school friend you dropped who is just dying to see you again since you live so close to a beach. Sure, you could book them into a hotel, but you won’t.

No worries. Your friends here will pick up a lot of the slack, because we know you’ll be there for us when guests-from-hell send flight details and a long to-do-on-holiday list.

8) We are casual. Although I’m sure there are people here who own formalwear, and perhaps even dress to the nines from time-to-time, but for most in Seychelles dressing up is more a matter of putting on your best long trousers, preferably jeans. There was a private school headmaster who kicked off holy hell by insisting teachers not wear jeans to work, his days in England giving a bias that saw denim as too devil-may-care laid-back and loosey-goosey for an institution of learning. Little did he realize that most here would wear their ‘good’ jeans to have tea with the Queen.

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Sparky in her harness …

9) We leave empty and come back full. Going overseas is a big deal for anyone anywhere, but when traveling to big places from a small place it’s not just a holiday … it’s a shopping trip. Packing is easy, as our big suitcase contains only our smaller suitcases on the way out. And it’s not only ourselves we shop for. Nope. The suitcase within a suitcase within a suitcase is sure to have at least three lists of stuff to get for friends. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have blood sugar monitoring sticks, batteries, print cartridges, flip flops, flea drops, tenrec halters, tequila, clothing, dog collars, a toilet seat and many, many other items delivered to me by friends returning from a vacation abroad. It’s a courtesy we acknowledge and value highly.

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We have great sky!

10) We look at the sky … a lot. Views here are big, wide and impressive, and unlike in more confined spaces we have a big chunk of sky over us. By day, we watch clouds move around and can see rain coming from miles away. By night, the distance between Seychelles and mega-cities allows the stars in the southern sky to shine and twinkle by the thousands. We know the season by the placement of Venus and are known to stay up all night for meteor showers. The moon in all its phases is as familiar as the 6 o’clock news is to those who live indoors most evenings, and an eclipse is an event bigger … and more entertaining … than the Superbowl.

So … that’s now 20 things about Seychelles, and many more have come to mind while putting these down. More to come. Don’t touch that dial. Film at 11.

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As yet another power cut finds me with time, and no little sweat, on my hands, it occurs I actually have something to write about. (Yeah, yeah …)

Getting ready for a feed.

Getting ready for a feed.

While perspiration gets the better of me I’m watching adult fodies on the feeder teach their second clutch of chicks how to take advantage of the easy sustenance, the occasional myna bully notwithstanding. The dogs are flat out and panting. The cat has long since lost interest in the poor skink he tortured to death earlier. Even the plants have thrown in the towel, or the leaf, or whatever.

The only member of the household with any energy at all this early afternoon is Sparky, the tenrec. At the moment she’s scampering around behind me on the couch and trying to skootch her way up into my lap, a position not terribly comfortable for me when hunching over my Mac on the coffee table in front of me.

You see, tenrecs are pokey; not in the move-real-slow-and-slug-like pokey, but rather the ouch variety. They have quills. In fact they’re covered in short, sharp pointy hair-like structures meant to ward off the many animals that would enjoy making lunch out of them.

Unlike British hedgehogs, tenrecs cannot roll themselves into a ball for protection, so along with the pointy body armor comes a mouthful of tiny razors that can make hash of absurdly large centipedes and yank giant African Land Snails from their baby-shoe-sized shells.

Some scale on size.

Some scale on size.

The most fecund of all mammals, litters of tenrecs can number well into double digits, 32 little ones being the known max with 10 to 20 the norm. Mom leads them from the birthing nest into the wild very early and protocol dictates they follow her in single file, so it happens that those at the end of the line sometimes take a wrong turn and end up where they shouldn’t be, like in the mouth of a dog or cat or at the bottom of a ridge they have no chance of conquering. This would be the reason I’ve ended up raising 11 of them over the past few years.

The first that came to me was a little guy we called Riki. He was somewhere around two weeks old and very obviously not in a good place for a baby tenrec; along the side of the road trying like hell to scale a 12’ tall sheer wall of rock. Stopping the car to pick him up was a reflex action on my part, having no idea how I would care for this odd, spiky dudelette or if it was safe to handle one.

I had, of course, seen them in passing here and recalled a pair who lived at the Sacramento Zoo when I worked there, but those were kept in the Education Building and out of my sphere of knowledge.

Google being my go-to source, I went to and was surprised to find the top search results had nothing to to with caring for tenrecs and everything to do with cooking them. Although a recipe for wine sauce sounded nice, it was certainly not helpful under the circumstance. (Native to Madagascar, they were introduced into Seychelles by settlers from Reunion as a food source. They still eat them there and in Mauritius. In Seychelles, no.)

Further digging eventually led me to articles on basic care and feeding, as well as sites that sold tenrecs as exotic pets in the US, the UK and other lands far distant from all tenrec roots in the Indian Ocean. They were, however, helpful and informative and I was happy to learn that due to import restrictions and such tenrecs had been tested for just about every ailment known by and contagious to mankind. They neither get nor carry rabies, foot-and-mouth or leptospirosis, and although it wasn’t mentioned I quickly found out they’re not even popular with fleas.
Successful raising and eventual release of Riki was followed by the same for Rocky, Rinny, Tiny, Tango and a handful of others, some with me for short times, others longer, depending on how big they were when rescued and how adept they were are sorting things out for themselves. All were released in my garden, which may account for an increasing number of babies needing help right at my doorstep, but given the benefits of tenrec control on snails, centipedes and baby rats, it seems a fair trade.

Plus, each has been different in its own way and all have taught me more about their care. I’d syringe fed all at the beginning, so none were ever aggressive with me, but it was clear being handled stressed them and it never occurred to me that actually taming might happen, which was fine. They’re primitive creatures, one of the oldest mammals on the planet, and haven’t changed much at all since they shared the Earth with dinosaurs. Their evolution happening before there were humans, it made sense that my species would hold about as much significance for them as a column of sentient light would to me, just blending into the general scenery and only scary in cases of direct contact.

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Cozy time.

Then came Sparky.

It may have been the case that the dogs discovered a nest. When I glanced out the kitchen window and saw my dog, Flee, playing with something on the drive it seemed too small to be anything but a rhinoceros beetle or some other big bug, but I went for a look anyway. (I do like rhino beetles, so would have saved one of those, too.)

What it was, of course, was a baby tenrec about the size of my thumb, probably less than a week old, and, thankfully, not worse for the wear it had experienced as a squishy toy. Flee dropped her at my feet and I brought her inside for what was now the usual treatment.

I keep a small wire cage just for the purpose, so kitted it out in banana leaves and other browse and half a coconut husk as a den, then put the baby in, closed the door and let her recover from her ordeal. (You’ll note I’m referring to Sparky as ‘her’, but at the time I had no idea of the gender. Sparky actually started out as Spartacus, dubbed so by my son, Sam. He’s 12, so no surprise there.)

A few hours later, she took well to the syringe … I feed yogurt with a bit of egg yoke to start with and provide water … and continued to settle in nicely. I worried a bit because she seemed a bit less robust than others I’d raised, less skittish, so watched her for any signs of internal damage Flee have have caused.

She loves being petted.

She loves being petted.

All of the other tenrecs extended great effort in evading my hand when retrieving them from the cage for feeding. Most would rifle under the leaf letter, then climb the wire to monkey-bar along the top in brief panic as I wrestled them out, only settling when enclosed in my palm. Sparky didn’t do this. In fact, it was only about a week before I noticed her actually approaching me.

I must admit I went a bit Sally Field for a while … She likes me! She really likes me! … but it was a tremendous privilege to have this amazing little creature respond in ways even a puny human like me could interpret as a connection.

That was five months ago, and the connection continues. When I walk up to Sparky’s house now she wakes up, gives a big yawn, then waddles from her coconut husk, or wherever she’s been lounging, and greets me at the door. She wanders on to my open palm when the door opens and we cuddle on the couch for a while. She loves to be petted and scratched, so I dig my fingers into her quills and give her skin a good tickle, removing loose spines as I go, then stroke her soft underbelly as she closes her eyes and gets into the mood.

In the evenings she joins Pat and me on the couch for movie time and meanders back and forth between and behind us, occasionally pushing the cat out of the way to do so. Her nose perpetually sniffing the air, quills raised on the back of her head when she tries to climb up the back of the sofa and always grateful for a hand up.

She even likes the cat ... sort of.

She even likes the cat … sort of.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever enjoyed the honor of tenrec love, but would not be surprised to learn that Sparky is one of a kind.

She’s five months old now, growing as she should, and just as sweet and funny a critter as I could have imagined. I’m hoping this continues and, with a potential lifespan of 8+ years, that she’s with me for a long, long time.

(Sparky’s diet consists of just about everything, her favs being cherry yogurt and roast chicken. She also gets egg, liver, papaya, banana, fish and whatever else we have on hand. She also always has fresh water and a small dish of dirt that she enjoys. Minerals! She may be a bit spoiled, as she has no interest whatsoever in snails, but, then again, I’ve never cooked them in garlic for her.)

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