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Archive for the ‘Seychelles’ Category

62006441If I felt more industrious this Sunday afternoon, I could easily list at least 50 things about this country that could come as revelations to newcomers and visitors, but it’s a lovely day and I’ve already put in time feeding birds, cleaning tenrec dens and picking up dog poop.

Funnily enough, the fact that people living here deal with such mundane things startles some who assume days on these lovely islands simply must be passed in sun-soaking, wallowing in the warm sea and strolling down sandy shores as birds sing and clouds drift overhead.

If only.

I’ve written before about the Disneyland mentality of some visitors and how annoying it can be when assumptions are made that we here are responsible for the weather and have nothing more important to do than make a holiday perfect, and new residents can be almost as exasperating in their giddiness at actually living in paradise.

“My toilet is broken. Do you know a plumber who’ll come out on a Sunday night?”

“I’ve been looking all over for authentic pork pies. Where can I find some?”

“The power’s gone out! What do I do?”

(The answers are, 1) No, 2) Yes. In England, 3) Hand wash the dishes … in the dark)

So … in an effort to help some stumble the Seychelles path (Watch out for potholes!) as they learn to negotiate their way around, here are 10 things to know about the country and the people who live here:

1) We don’t go to the beach nearly as much as you think. Often we choose to stay home, indoors, and do exciting things like laundry.

2) There are virtually no addresses. Although roads do have names, house numbers exist in only a very few areas, so if you are invited to visit someone’s home be prepared to take directions. You may want to write these down, as they’re complicated. For example: Turn left at the shop with half a mannequin by the door (a right turn will put you in the sea), drive up the road, pass the 5-to-10 guys sitting on a rock under a mango tree drinking, then look for a dirt track to the right just after the place where the road is white from squished breadfruit, etc.. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be going along a trail of spilled paint … which is helpful.

3)  When we do decide some beach time should happen, choosing a beach is done by committee. Not just any beach will do, even though they are all lovely, so much consideration goes into the choice. Micro-climate has us calling people who live on the other side or up north or down south to check if it’s raining. If it’s rough on the east coast, perhaps it’s calm on the west. If we’re bringing kids, the shallow or inside-the-reef options are taken into account. If snorkeling is desired, we all have our fav spots. If it’s a Sunday and we don’t want our meditative communing with nature disturbed by picnickers with a generator hooked to fridge-sized speakers blasting crap music to distortion … well … we know where to avoid.

4)  We use the airport as a pee stop.

5)  We swap entertainment … books, movies, TV shows … so if you have any, share.

6)  We are annoyed when there are more than 10 people on a beach.

7)  We get really excited by new products. This isn’t quite as big a thing these days, so we hardly ever, now, call all our friends when we find mushrooms or nice cheese in a shop, nor do we tend (as much) to buy up the whole stock of whatever to share out or hoard. We do, however, continue to be right chuffed at discoveries of rare or never-to-have-been-available-in-Seychelles items, and given how much shopping we do when overseas, it’s a given that there are a lot of things that fit the category.

8)  We ALWAYS have candles.

9)  People are as recognized by the number plates on their cars as they are by their faces. Driving someone else’s car can introduce you to a whole load of people you’ve never seen before. (And it is amazing how many people you’ve never seen before on this tiny island.)

10) Mahé is 17 miles long … Praslin and La Digue even smaller … yet the idea of driving to the far end of the island takes almost as much contemplation and preparation as a plane ride of 12,000 miles. I live in the south and get to Beau Vallon (in the north), on average, once every 2 years or so. Friends in the north visit me about as often. Meeting up in town used to happen, but that was before Victoria became a traffic and parking nightmare and options outside that hellish perimeter were available.

So … that’s it for today. Hope it helps.

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A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. ~William Hodding Carter

8f4e475e09b0cabef9884f079ebd24e2Sam went to Germany for the weekend. A school trip had him en route for about as long as he was en Cologne, but it seems he enjoyed the trip and, equally as important to me, is now safely back in his home in England.

It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines as my children get on with life in other parts of the world. Not at all.

My eldest, Jenn, being an adult, and a very sensible one at that, has been taking care of her own family for 20+ years, but that’s not to say I’m worry-free when it comes to her. I keep an eye on the weather in North Carolina and fret constantly over her health, her safety and her happiness as is proper, still being her mother and all. Too much sharing of my anxious thoughts, however, would be annoying for her, so I mostly keep them to myself.

Sam and Cj, being young and now far, are another story. Although completely trusting in the environment they now inhabit and the wonderful woman who cares for them in every way as I would, I still lose sleep.

They’re in a different, wider, more dangerous world now, so my worries have expanded as they ride their bikes to the park and go to big schools with kids I don’t know and take busy motorways and visit London for days out. All of those things are wonderful and broadening and educational and experiences they couldn’t have here with me on this rock. Live theater in the West End, music festivals, camping, playing in the snow … all great and all adding to their lives in ways that will serve them well.

But …

My son passing through France and Belgium while making his way, with a busload of other school kids, to Germany at this point in time scared the shit outta me.

The world our children are inheriting seems a terrifyingly dangerous place rife with automatic weapon-toting fuckwads drunk on the smell of blood, people strapping on ‘suicide belts’ with no intention of going alone, bomb makers tinkering away in neighborhoods with visions of mass mayhem filling their zealot pea brains as democracy fails through wanton avarice and the planet attempts to cope with massive interference with nature in ways that will not be kind to any of us.

So, the questions plaguing me are …

1) How can my children be prepared to be safe and secure as possible as they construct their lives in a world that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket?

And, 2) What messages can they be given that may help them find happiness and satisfaction in their lives?

If my own chaotic childhood taught me anything, it was the value of adaptability, and this does seem key over the next decades. No one could have accurately envisioned today’s world even 30 years ago with its tech advances (and reliance upon), the perpetual war-without-front and its tendency to catch people out in mundane circumstances, ever more drastic weather and global financial meltdowns.

Predicting 30 years ahead is even more of a crap shoot, a future I can’t begin to imagine. Most certainly there will be catastrophic events as human population grows, then must shrink from lack of space and resources, as sea levels rise and wipe out swathes of what is now considered habitable land and the struggle to survive is armed to the teeth and merciless.

With luck, 30 years from now Sam will be 43 and Cj 40 … in their prime.

So … what to do? How to plan?

First, they must have access to all the information they will need to make informed choices. This does not mean filling their evenings with every horror of the day via the BBC, or any other media, but answering their questions honestly and providing sources for research.

Second, assuring they are educated to the fullness of their potential and allowed to specialize in whatever ignites their passions. Knowledge is power and a solid foundation built from study provides a platform from which one can put perspective to the past and have some clues to what’s ahead.

Third, and most importantly, encourage them to grab every bit of joy they can whenever they see it and wherever they find it. Although it may not always seem so, life is a gift, and every single day, no matter how difficult or sad or tiring or tedious is full to the brim with fleeting moments, and it is the ‘fleeting’ bit that we all must be aware of. What is life if not a series of moments? (In a conversation with my brothers this morning, we chained together quite a few shared moments of our combined childhood, and it dawned on me how vital it is that my kids grab and keep as many as they can for future examination, amusement and contemplation.)

I want my children to know joy as well as they know grief, to feel bold even when fear haunts the corners, to recognize gratitude as easily as they do indebtedness, to feel love as deeply as loss. I want them to be as ready to jump for joy as they may have to be to jump out of the way, to accept challenges with as much certainty as they throw their hands up in disgust and walk away. I want them to live as fully, as involved, as engaged, as enthused as possible for as long as they can.

Just Skyped with Jenn, and then with Sam. Jenn is feeling better, able to laugh and catch me up on what’s what in her world. That makes me happy.  Sam is tired and snuffy, but very happy for the experience of three countries in 36 hours and waffles and wurst. He’s safe and sound and a bit more worldly, so I’m happy, too.

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

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The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Lovely, lovely rain on my veranda!

Lovely, lovely rain on my veranda!

Longfellow was a pretty smart guy, having grasped the reality of the world being big and the fact that communication between humans from different lands can be difficult when he wrote: Music is the universal language of mankind.

Is it wrong to wish it was more often employed as a replacement for words? (I know that’s rich coming from a writer who can barely carry a tune, but bear with me.)

More than two decades of life on an island touted as a ‘tourist destination’ can sure test one’s patience with … well … tourists, and nothing brings out the worst, the grumpiest, the most bellyaching sniveling in people on holiday than rain.

Yes, we here do understand that you’ve been looking forward to a getaway on a tropical island for yonks, that you may have scrimped and saved for a long time to dig your toes into sand and will be so disappointed if you don’t return to wherever you come from tanned to a crisp that will make every pasty friend you have back home go viridescent with envy. Yeah … we do get that.

We also get that your ideas of a great vacation may be based on trips to Disneyland where, yes, it does sometimes rain, but accommodation has been planned for visitors when it does and advice is available in advance:

Whatever you do DON’T BRING AN UMBRELLA! It’s a pain to carry around, and you will end up poking someone in the eye. DON’T DO IT!

We may even feel sorry for you when it rains every single day of your short holiday.

But …

This isn’t Disneyland! Not everyone is tasked with making your vacation perfect in every way. In fact, no one is. Really.

Those who may think hounding hotel staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, shopkeepers … anyone who lives or works here … need to get a grip on their own umbrella … because you will need one. And none of us can answer the oft-repeated question: When will it stop raining?

The sound of the rain needs no translation. ~ Alan Watts

You see, we know it’s raining, and we’re often really, really happy about it. We’ve lived through the dry periods when water restrictions force anyone without a big collection tank to round up buckets and pots and all sort of vessels in various shapes, sizes and colors, then stand on the roadside waiting for a water truck to show up and fill said vessels. We’ve seen our gardens shrivel up, fruit wrinkle on the vine and fruit bats searching long and hard for a bite or two that still has some moisture in it. We’ve shared out cups of hard-won liquid with birds about to tumble out of trees from dehydration. We’ve had our houses invaded by ants and spiders driven to the few damp areas inside.

See? It rains in the tropics!

See? It rains in the tropics!

Most of us would like to work up more sympathy, but, quite frankly, we rather tire of hearing the whinging. We would be happy to lead you to information you should have checked before you decided to holiday in the tropics, but we are too nice to rub it in. And if you catch us on a bad day you may have our take laid out like this: (1) Welcome to the tropics (2) How do you think this place stays so green and lovely? (3) It’s not like you’re going to freeze.

Climate Characteristics: Constant high temperatures throughout the year. Average monthly temperatures are very similar – yearly range is about 2 to 3°C (36 to 37°F). Monthly precipitation is evenly distributed and annual amounts are usually greater than 1500 mm (59 in.). These climates also have frequent cumulus cloud development with some of these clouds becoming air mass thunderstorms. Humidity tends to be high.

So …the sea is warm and swimming in the rain is a lovely experience that presents little diamonds of splash that bounce around before your eyes. We need the rain. We have no control over it or the timing of your holiday.

After all, when we come to your country do we complain … or did we do our homework and prepare? (Disclosure: okay, we complain in England, but isn’t that just adapting to the local culture?)

As Kermit so eloquently sang … It’s not easy being green.

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Man is a blind, witless, low brow, anthropocentric clod who inflicts lesions upon the earth. ~ Ian McHarg ~

That's the church ... just there behind all the garbage.

That’s the church … just there behind all the garbage.

It’s a Sunday, which in Seychelles means a large number of people have dressed in their best and wandered off to church. Everyone attending will be spick-and-span in well-laundered and neatly pressed garments, no few carrying a sifon soaked in cologne to fragrantly wipe away any dampness that may arise from the heat. Children will be fresh and tidy, scrubbed and anointed with smell-good powder and hair wrangled into neat dos.

If personal cleanliness is next to godliness, the Seychellois are close neighbors. Most shower at least twice a day and even work clothes are washed and dried and ironed. School children turn up every morning in crisp, clean uniforms toting rucksacks that have been scrubbed clear of dust, dirt and detritus. (Even before electricity was widely in place and washing machines became common household items, Seychellois women were assiduous in their scrubbing, either in streams or at concrete tables on which dirt was lathered, pounded and scraped away.) Gardens are swept. Houses are dusted and mopped and scoured.

It’s a common after-church activity to meet with friends and family for a picnic on a nearby beach. These are no small affairs. We’re not talking a basket with a few sandwiches and some munchables. No. A Seychelles Sunday picnic comes complete with a half-barrel barbecue and grill, tons of food — including at least one ginormous fish — loads of drink and a generator attached to fridge-sized speakers to make sure everyone within a mile gets to ‘enjoy’ the far-too-loud-and-distorted ‘music’ of choice for the day to truly be worthy the title ‘Sunday’.

contrariety that can’t be ignored rises when the Monday morning sun illuminates the beaches and reveals the undeniable fact that the scrubbed, cleaned, spotless, unsoiled, pristine, laundered, squeaky clean, as-clean-as-a-whistle Sunday morning folks’ idea of being in proximity to godliness doesn’t travel and personal responsibility for cleanliness doesn’t stretch beyond the clothes on their backs and the garden gate. When the party is over, the garbage is left where it lies.

Anse Royale

Beside the church at Anse Royale

And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use.  And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried:  “Look at this Godawful mess.”  ~Art Buchwald

AR2

Where the river meets the sea at Anse Royale ..

Takeaway boxes, bottles, plastic everything, used condoms and syringes … nasty shit of all sorts … litter this beautiful island like oozing carbuncles on a syphilitic. “Embellishment Teams” may sweep the roadsides and blow leaves around, but cleanups of rivers and beaches are left to the one “Clean up the World Day” per year. 

Responsibility: A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star. ~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

At Anse Royale School. Some lessons are not being learned.

At Anse Royale School. Some lessons are not being learned.

It’s not at all uncommon to see tidily-dressed kids jettison crisp wrappers, plastic bottles and empty tins along the road or chuck them into the bush. It is also common to watch their school teachers do the same as they make their way home.

Rural families often have a special place in the forest to toss their garbage which, of course, mounts up over years of being a depository for everything from dirty nappies to rusted refrigerators, from dead animals to dead batteries.

The contrast between neat and tidy homes occupied by neat and tidy people and the amount of refuse that gathers is as frightening as it is confusing. Did no one read “The Little Prince”?

“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on. “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

After heavy rains, the trash that has collected in rivers, streams, gutters and bush makes its way … where? … to the beach, of course, then into the sea.

We’re treating the oceans like a trash bin: around 80 percent of marine litter originates on land, and most of that is plastic. Plastic that pollutes our oceans and waterways has severe impacts on our environment and our economy. Seabirds, whales, sea turtles and other marine life are eating marine plastic pollution and dying from choking, intestinal blockage and starvation. Scientists are investigating the long-term impacts of toxic pollutants absorbed, transported, and consumed by fish and other marine life, including the potential effects on human health. ~ National Resources Defense Council ~

Sweet Escott, very near the EU 'project' ...

Sweet Escott, very near the EU ‘project’ …

An EU-funded project completed years ago to provide safe disposal of toxic materials and heavy metals sits behind a well-tended chainlink fence, and although the grass is cut regularly and air conditioning units grace a building on the site not one bit of sea-killing material has ever been deposited there, so all trash that is actually collected … and, yes, we do have a trash collection service that empties the roadside bins regularly … goes to the landfill, a purpose-built porous island on the seafront.

The Native American idea that ‘we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children’ seems to be interpreted to mean ‘those leaking batteries our grandfather threw in the bush will do just fine beside the baby’s poopy diapers’.

The magnificence of mountains, the serenity of nature – nothing is safe from the idiot marks of man’s passing.  ~Loudon Wainwright

Photo credits: Karine le Brun

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House, n.  A hollow edifice erected for the habitation of human, rat, mouse, beetle, cockroach, fly, mosquito, flea, bacillus, and microbe.  ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Life is all around!

Life is all around!

Ah … tropical island life! So green and lush and moist and warm, so full of life.

Unlike other parts of Africa we have no giraffes loping gracefully over open plains, nor do we have open plains. You won’t find lions lounging in prides in the shade under acacias, even though we do have acacias. The huge saltwater crocodiles that once inhabited this island have been extinct for two centuries, so the only predator species filling the top spot is Homo sapiens and we’re far from indigenous.

Still, everywhere your eye might rest there are critters, some of which are autochthonous like our fruit bats that have become their own unique version of chiroptera. The list of endemic reptiles includes thirteen types of lizard, two snake species, and of course the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, which visitors are far more likely to see than either our wolf snake or house snake. (In my twenty-plus years here I have seen ONE live snake. A few dead ones, unfortunately, since although the animals are completely harmless and could, if allowed, take a toll on the rat population, Seychellois are terribly ophiophobic.)

Every house has geckos; entertaining little critters that chirp like birds and scamper over seemingly impossible surfaces as they

Sweet little baby gecko!

Sweet little baby gecko!

munch on bugs. Tourists not accustomed to sharing space with lizards sometimes freak out and no few have alerted hotel staff to the “baby crocodiles on the ceiling” … really.

Birds are everywhere: mynas, fodies, doves, blue pigeons, bulbuls and such are common and spend time on verandas. Beautiful kestrels are rarer, but can be seen if you’re lucky.

A myna likes to bathe in the dogs' water bowl.

A myna likes to bathe in the dogs’ water bowl.

Sea birds are less common on Mahé, but legion on some of the islands. A trip to Bird Island delivers just what the name promises with over 700,000 pairs of sooty terns nesting. (For diehard birders … “another phenomena especially in October to December, arises from the geographical location of Bird Island on the northern edge of the Seychelles Bank. This means it is the first landfall for migratory Euarasian birds …” )

And like everywhere else in the world, we have a lot of bugs.

It is estimated that at any given moment, Earth is home to a billion billion insects. Spread out evenly over the land surface, this would be nearly 8,000 insects per square meter!

Yep. Creepy crawlies abound, although if you try to learn what’s here through Wikipedia you’ll come up short. Some, like bees, are helpful. Some (centipedes come to mind) are horrible. Spiders the size of a kid’s hand aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. We have ants that are yellow and crazy, mean sand flies and … sigh … mosquitos. Not the type that vector malaria, thankfully, but bite and itch and can transmit dengue fever, a miserable illness I can personally attest to the misery of … twice. I’m so not a fan of these asshole insects that global eradication would be just fine with me. And I’m not alone in this …

“it’s difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage”, says insect ecologist Steven Juliano, of Illinois State University.

Fun with a Rhinoceros Beetle.

Fun with a Rhinoceros Beetle.

On the bug front, however, we also have a very cool Rhinoceros Beetle, and since coconut plantations no longer support the country I’m okay with them. They’re big enough to be considered more like a dog than a bug, as is evidenced by their presence in the pet trade. Thankfully I get to play with them for free.

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1978663_10153161808111928_7666657526912481160_nAnyone who knows me or follows me on Facebook or Instagram is familiar with my love of sunsets. I post loads of photos of the show on display as days end, each new, all different and spectacular in their own way and worthy of attempts to capture at least a fraction of the show.

“When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” ~ Carl R. Rogers

I doubt there are many people who can have such a display in front of them without it triggering that awe and the deep thoughts that should, by rights, follow the experience of the sky sharing its glory with us puny humans. Dropping into the horizon, we become acutely aware of the Earth’s rotation and can be dizzied by how fast we’re spinning. The changing shapes of clouds prompt notions of animals, faces … and the occasional Starship Enterprise … to pop into mind, stirring imagination and rumination. Colors shift constantly and dramatically, often fleetingly causing wonder if this shade or that hue has ever before been noticed.

10996037_10153174300731928_6012042621209276529_nI can easily understand the compulsion of the ancients to come up with wacky theories about the why and wherefore of the setting sun: a god driving a golden chariot across the sky daily; Navajo people of the American Southwest portray their sun god as a worker named Jóhonaa’éí, or sun bearer. Every day Jóhonaa’éí laboriously hauls the sun across the sky on his back; myths of monsters or evil spirits that steal or devour the sun or stories of the sun falling from the heavens or withdrawing its light for a time. How else to explain something so huge, so life-impacting, so spectacular at a time next-to-nothing was known?

It’s with emphasis on the spectacular that I am confused, disappointed and outraged by the fact that people in 2015 continue to chalk up this marvelous daily spectacle to mundane, simplistic and tattered ideas trotted out 2000 years ago by illiterates. They’re missing out on so much.

What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn’t prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary. ~ STEPHEN HAWKING

That we live on a planet with water and atmosphere enough to create a sunset is wonder enough for anyone … or should be. We revolve around our sun and rotate on our axis, so planning for sunset appreciation is easy. What could possibly motivate so many to opt out of the amazement the natural world provides in favor of acceptance of the moves of some cheesy magician trick? “Watch me pull a rabbit/sunset/rainbow/whatever out of my hat … or ass …”

11012937_10153167014596928_3107568570031190133_nHow believers cheat themselves out of true appreciation for the world around us! Dodging knowledge, learning, thought, wonder, for the sake of convenient indolence is an offense to humanity and our struggle to reach personal pinnacles of fascination and surprise during our lifetimes, and how can that struggle not be better than the shoulder shrug that is “God did it.”?

It may be — I hope it is — redemption to guess and perhaps perceive that the universe, the hell which we see for all its beauty, vastness, majesty, is only part of a whole which is quite unimaginable. ~ WILLIAM GOLDING

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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.

IMG_0045_2

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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