|19-Mar: Kuruman Raptor Centre
No KMP meerkats for us today... We leave around 07:15, for Kuruman, a town approx. 200 km to the East. The drive is monotonous, even though I may drive for part of the trip (after I've been added to the project's insurance list). Kuruman is a province town, even though it is one of the oldest cities in South Africa – a certain Rev. Moffat founded it as a mission. The mission is one of the main attractions of Kuruman; it is a museum today. The other main attraction is the Kuruman Raptor Centre (KRC). I had scheduled a visit to them weeks ago – it had been on my list of places to visit since my first trip to the Kalahari in 2005!
Mike, Sue and Jason Finlay greet us at the Centre, and Jason takes us on a tour of the aviaries: Black eagle, Black-breasted Snake Eagle, Martial Eagle, Spotted Eagle Owls, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Tawny Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Giant Eagle Owl, Fish Eagle – all of them injured in some way that they can no longer fly. Jason explains each animal to us, how it lives in the wild, and how it came here. Mathilda the giant eagle owl barely opens a pink-lidded eye for us. And Gus the PCG has just eyes for Jason, but doesn't feel like hopping on his shoulder. We can enter some of the aviaries, always taking care not to disturb the birds. Others are to vary of humans, so we leave them in peace.
A bit further away we visit the vulture site: it is no enclosure, but an open space with a vista to the grassland, where the disabled vultures stay: a Lappet-faced, a White-backed and five Cape Vultures. With them is a disabled White Stork. Their wild counterparts regularly visit them, while there is vulture restaurant time. So this is actually not a vulture restaurant, but a vulture hotel. Two Cape vultures also succeeded in breeding, twice – the first Cape vulture chicks in the Northern Cape in dozens of years, as they are locally extinct as a breeding species. Both chicks fledged successfully, and left the KRC with the wild visitors. Vince, the first, was equipped with a GPS sender, and could be tracked up to Botswana. I wonder whether he will find a mate to breed, some day.
Many of the disabled raptors were electrocuted or mistreated by humans, so that their under wings had to be amputated. The Kuruman Raptor Centre also hosts a small exhibition about the Kalahari raptors, as well as a model of a power line, sponsored by Eskom the national power company who pride themselves in inventive technologies to prevent electrocution of raptors. The ideas are good, but on our way back we don't see any of them put into action.
After a cold drink we go to see a non-raptor attraction at the KRC: the two pet meerkats. The two females are held in an enclosure; they were brought to the KRC because their owners no longer wanted them. Jason would like to have a male, and let them have pups, before they are released as a family. The KRC had half-tame meerkats before, and they and some of the raptors featured in “The Meerkats”, a BBC movie. That previous group split however, and one part was lost to TB, while the other disappeared.
The two meerkat females are fun to watch. The larger one will definitely have to lose weight before she's released. Lola, the slimmer female, is feisty – she crawls all over us, barks at the black cat outside of the enclosure. She even climbs us to sniff our nostrils – really going nose to nose. Next comes a foraging expedition to Monica's hair – her thick braid seems very interesting to Lola. The finale though is her discovery of Melissa's cigarettes, in her trousers: She bites and digs at them so furiously that we all believe she's a nicotine addict... Funny little bugger! Definitely a different experience to the KMP, even though they also climb heads – yet they don't interact while doing guards. I wonder how Lola will fare once she's released from captivity.
In another enclosure nearby we see a kori bustard – the heaviest bird who still can fly (why can no one tell me how heavy they actually are?). That individual is not in good shape though; it was collected at the nearby Tswalu lodge, entangled in a fence. It recovered quite well during the past week, but still can't stand on it's legs. Jason will bring it to the Kuruman vet again, in the afternoon.
We then enjoy an excellent lunch with kasseler, chicken roast and salads, prepared by Sue, and learn a lot more about their feathered guests and pets (3 dogs and 2 cats). Only around 3 p.m. we say goodbye – everyone liked it very much and Melissa certainly wants to visit again, with Earthwatchers, if possible.
We briefly stop at the Oog (Eye), another local attraction. It's a deep water-filled hole looking like a pond overgrown with nympheas – pretty and somewhat unexpected in the Kalahari, but otherwise unspectacular. Melissa and the Friends then go for a brief shopping trip. We planned to go to see the Moffat Mission, but miss the turn-off. Already being late, we drive on. There's another stop at the Van Zylsrus Hotel, and us ladies raid their curio shop. I just get a bag of Shepherd's Tree Coffee (a coffee substitute made from roasted ground roots) and a tortoise keyring, but the other ladies really splurge... :-) The hotel seems very nice, with colourful rooms and lots of murals with a Kalahari theme – including meerkats, of course. The best is their courtyard garden though: a splash of verdant green in the middle of the Kalahari! And they have a small (but clear) pool…
We make it back to the farm just in time for the sunset; we're invited for drinks at Tim's house. Most of us have Timm's, Tim's Kalahari-adapted version of Pimm's (Lime cordial with rum), and we talk about research, the KRC visit and the Friends visit. Lisa and Sarah later join us for dinner, back at Gannavlakte, for home-baked chicken fajitas.
> Next day: Lazuli and Commandos
Last update: 13:05 11/04 2009