The Rescue of an African Pangolin

Like the rhino, an uncomfortable parallel can be drawn with this most elusive creature. The pangolin is being poached due to its perceived medicinal properties. Incalculable damage is being done to the pangolin population due to the mistaken belief that their keratin scales possess rejuvenating properties. Due to its nocturnal nature, many people – despite having been on many safaris – have never experienced the pleasure of seeing one in the wild.

This is just one of numerous stories relating to the rescue of these most unique looking creatures.

Main picture: Note the posture of the Pangolin whilst walking. It holds the front paws up in the air as it is unable to walk using them

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Witness to the Birth of an Island

Imagine sailing through the ocean and suddenly land rises in the middle of the sea with a plume of smoke arising from an underwater volcano. These unsuspecting sailors were witnessing the birth of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in March 2016. 

This is the incredible story of the crew of the yacht Maiken which was sailing through the south Pacific near the Vava’u Islands in Tonga. Oot the blue they noticed that the water in the distance had turned a strange colour. Then, as they approached it, the sea mysteriously turned to stone.

Main picture: The eruption occurred at an underwater seamount called Home Reef near the Vava’u Islands in Tonga

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It is a Dog’s Life when on a Chain

An aphorism that I strenuously advocate is that animals should be free. That is why I am averse to zoos and even caged birds. Like humans, all animals have certain rights and one of those is freedom. Amongst others is that they must be able to feel real grass under their feet and not to be confined in the animal equivalent of “solitary confinement.”

Main picture: Rusty, the dog, that was chained to a fence for over 10 years

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Will Sylvester the Wayward Lion be Reprieved?

Animals always draw the short straw in their interaction with humans. Sylvester the Lion is merely the latest in that long line. What was the National Parks knee-jerk reaction? Sylvester must be killed. This attitude prevailed until such time as the chorus of opposition became too vociferous. At that point, euthanasia became one amongst an array of options such as relocation.

Main picture: Sylvester the Lion is at large again after once again having escaped from the Karroo National Park. So far he has alluded all attempts at capture.

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Do your pets also hate the Vet?

The McCleland household has the anomalous situation where my huge German Shepherd Dog terrorises the smaller pets in the house? In fact she derives considerable pleasure in having them cower in terror as she tramps them underfoot and pins them to the floor. But going to the vet is a different story. It brings into sharp focus her cowardly dispossession. Without even mentioning the word “Vet” just in case Layla’s English lessons are bearing fruit, she senses that the reason why she is being ushered into my BMW is because she is visiting her nemesis – the Vet. At that point she will disappear, tarnishing her image as a tough-as-nails take-it-in-her-stride guard dog.

Layla’s ruthless streak dissolves into a whimper.

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Nature is Triumphant

Nature is fragile. An oil spill at the coast can result in the deaths of millions of sea creatures. The destruction of the animal’s natural habitat is a habitual concern of conservationists. The population explosion brings the wild animals into conflict with human needs. A tense standoff between conservationists and human needs will throw this conundrum into sharp relief. In one aspect, nature is resilient. Nature can be triumphant and that relates to vegetation. Left untended, vegetation will reclaim even the most obdurate surfaces and areas. This series of photographs highlights this phenomenon.

Main picture: Angkor in Cambodia

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Mother’s Love in Animals

A picture of the bond between mother and child is particularly endearing especially in newly-born animals. The look of utter contentment and tranquility encapsulates the sublime moment. But the world of animals is a tough place. Most animals are not afforded the luxury of a joyful childhood. Instead literally within minutes they could face ferocious predators and other hazards of life. In this blog, I contrast the extremes from a foal which finds peace and contentment with its mother to the other extreme where a barnacle goose mother coerces her day old chicks to take a leap of faith which many will not survive.

Main picture: The newly born foal seeks solace, contentment and reassurance with its mother

Motherly love: Reciprocity of love and need

The first vignette depicts one of these precious moments. It relates to a newly born offspring of Taskin, a Gypsy Stallion owned by Villa Vanners of Oregon.

Newly born foal#3

This series of pictures were taken immediately after his birth on April 6. The mare lay down to give her new baby the love and comfort that he needed. The baby then trotted around and crawled right up into her lap. Talk about true love!

Newly born foal#4 Newly born foal#2

Tough Love: No time for tenderness

This idyllic situation is distorted picture of the reality of life in the wild. In the first episode of the Natural History series Life Story, narrated by the inimitable 85 year old David Attenborough, he deals with the travails during the first footsteps in the life of various wild animals.

The cup indicates the size of the ducklings

The cup indicates the size of the ducklings

In a cogent fashion he deals with the perils of childhood in the wild. In the extreme case such as Wildebeest, the newly born animal is given only a few minutes to grasp the concept of balancing upright on four legs before they are expected to be able outrun a lion in full charge.

Wildebeest and its calf

Amazingly the BBC Natural History unit captures just such an event. From being literally unceremoniously dropped into the world head first, the bewildered young animal was given no more than five minutes to comprehend the world before the lions, sensing an easy meal – a hors d’oeuvre – charged at the herd.

With my heart in my throat at the fragility and mercilessness of life in the wild, this inexperienced animal galloped two mouthfuls ahead of the lioness.


It was a near-run thing but it survived.

Apparently even at that tender age, this animal has the endurance to outrun a lion.

What a traumatic introduction to the world?

Only then, the near escape forgotten, could the young wildebeest nuzzle up to its mother for the very first time. With formalities over and having shared greetings such as “Hello mom!” it took its first sip of mother’s milk.


Tough Love: An appalling decision

In a heart breaking vignette, David Attenborough captures the harsh death defying start to life of Barnacle Geese in Greenland. Of all the animals, these goslings must face the most perilous start in life. In order to protect their chicks against the numerous predators that abound in the area such as wily Artic foxes, the adult Barnacle Geese have evolved an effective deterrent: building their nests on the edge of a 400 foot sheer cliff face.

Barnacle geese nest on these pinnacles of rock

Barnacle geese nest on these pinnacles of rock

The problem is that the parents cannot feed them. At two days old, they have to feed themselves. In excruciating detail this documentary reveals how the parents coax these reluctant chicks to jump off the edge of the cliff. With only down as “feathers”, they can barely glide let alone flap. This results in a series of bumps as they slam into the cliff face on their descent. Cartwheeling through the air, they make their way downwards. The ultimate deciding factor whether they will live or die is whether they land on one of the small patches of grass instead of a sharp rock. Their chances of survival are 50:50 at best.

The trusting chick follows its mother instruction to jump over a 400 foot precipous

The trusting chick follows its mother instruction to jump over a 400 foot precipitous

The camera shows one landing badly and never even stirring. Its parents accept the inevitable. It has not survived the fall. The next also lands awkwardly. It lies on some grass not stirring. Finally it shakes its head and gradually stands up and then waddles across to its anxious parents waiting nearby. This poignant scene transmogrifies into cheery optimism as it seemingly has beaten the odds and survived. For good reason its parents are still anxiously waiting for it further below. Until they are safely down and together, it still faces a daunting challenge. The forlorn hope turns into dread as an Artic fox appears. With a final goodbye – an adieu – in the form of a nervous tweet-tweet, the fox clamps the chick in its mouth.


The Artic Fox captures a snack - a Barnacle Goose chick which survived it s base jumping attempt

The Artic Fox captures a snack – a Barnacle Goose chick which survived it s base jumping attempt

Without an expression of regret, the parents focus on the survivors. They quack punctiliously to alert the remaining chicks to their whereabouts.

A Baracle Goose at Svalbard

A Barnacle Goose at Svalbard

Of the five chicks, three have survived.


The last chick base jumps without a parachute

The last chick base jumps without a parachute

Once fully grown, these geese will have to re-enact this traumatic event. They will experience the mixed emotions of pathos, forlorn hope and relief as they too will enter into a Faustian Bargain with their newly born chicks.
Base jumping Barnacle Goose chicks:


Baby elephant Brown bear cubs Deer Lion cubs Lioness and cub Sleeping lions

Animals are always the Losers

In human / animal interactions, animals will always be the losers. As the latest tragedy at the Lion Park illustrates – where an American tourist was killed by a lioness – whenever a human is injured or killed by a wild animal in spite of the human’s stupidity, the animal is killed. The term “put down” does not do justice to the callous act of retribution.

Fortunately in this case the animal will be spared its life. Instead it will be removed from the pride and kept in isolation. This measure is an injustice and violates its “animal rights.” Unlike leopards, lions are social animals and operate in clans. Being isolated from her clan is akin to being kept in solitary confinement for a human.

Main picture: Notice on entering the lion enclosure at the Lion Park. On the Talk Shows some have criticised the Park Management for the lack of a “prominent sign” which I dispute. Secondly I contend that such a sign is unnecessary as one is entering a lion enclosure in a nature reserve called The Lion Park. I have no doubt that as the victim was American, the Lion Park will be sued for vast sums for negligence in allowing the woman to open her window.

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Be Wary of Lions

Of course this maxim applies to other wild animals as well. Most at risk are foreign tourists who find certain animals such as lions cute and innocuous. That is as maybe but common sense must prevail. The inevitable happened today. An American tourist was driving through the Lion Park no more than 20kms from Joburg with their window open when the lion struck. In the contest between man and the lion, guess who wins. The woman passenger did not.

What is troubling for me is that there have been calls for this lion to be shot.


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More Remarkable Playmates

Yesterday’s blog showcased three separate stories on unusual animal friendships or playmates. Here is another. In this case it is between an elephant and a dog.

Barak, a Basenji dog – a breed from Central Africa, owned by a game ranger in the Kruger National Park, clearly has eyes for this elephant. In order to communicate better with the dog, the elephant reciprocates and gets down to the dog’s level.

This incident occurred in 2014 at the home of Louis Olivier who lives at Skukuza, the main camp in the Kruger Park.

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