Thursday, 11 July 2013

Day 220: Who's the Bad Guy? Who's to Blame? - Part 1

On the farm we started noticing a little while back that our ducks were disappearing. Previously when we had ducks disappearing, it was mostly ducklings that would be grabbed by some of the bigger Nile Monitor Lizards that resided by our river at the time. Those have since been re-located to a more suitable environment -- so we knew: it wasn't the lizards.

So it started with all the ducklings disappearing, at a rate of about one a day. This is usually not very suspicious since they are small and we have things like eagle, mongoose and smaller lizards that can easily eat them. But then -- the motherduck also disappeared! Again, we weren't too suspicious about it -- because it happens and then afterwards thing usually go 'back to normal', which it did for a while. But then, we noticed that our adult duck population was declining, and more specifically it were the male ducks that had just started 'vanishing'. They would fly out to our dam during the day and one of them would not return at night. So we started looking around more and found some duck carcasses around our river. We started investigating and found some poo as well. So we checked what animals would eat the ducks in terms of their size and the rate at which they were being eaten and determined that it could either be a caracal or a jackal, but the poo matched the jackal more so we went with that.

One of our neighbours that moved away used to provide the jackals in the area with sheep that had died. We figured that since he had moved and there were no longer any sheep around, the jackals had moved out to look for food elsewhere. They are known to eat poultry and are about the size that could eat adult ducks.

As the male ducks died and mostly females remained who now had learnt that it is safer to sleep on the roof of the stables, no ducks had died in a while and everything was quiet.

Then, about a week later we noticed a goose had disappeared. We had 11, now there was 10. We didn't see any signs of struggle or snatching (usually there's a spot with lots of feathers and then a trail of feather to the corpse), it was just weird. The goose was gone and we didn't see any sign of it dead or alive for a couple of days. Then, another goose disappeared, and some leftovers were found by the river. A few more of them disappeared. In the meantime, Gian had stopped working in town and resumed working on the farm and was now also spending time looking out for the jackals, checking if he couldn't catch a glimpse of them. The dogs would usually get tense and restless just before and during an attack, so we used that as our guide. One night, the dogs were restless and there was lots of noise of ducks and geese by the stables -- so Gian went to have a look.

While he was there he saw two geese being killed by an animal coming from out of the water, which had the shape of a mongoose. Ok, so it's not jackals we're dealing with -- it's a mongoose.
This was strange though because the only mongoose I had ever seen on the farm had been pretty tiny, like cat-size and I couldn't imagine it being able to carry a goose up in the air (which is what it did when Gian saw it). We started locking up the geese so that the four that remained from the 11 could survive. I started leaving some vegetable closeby where the mongoose had been eating its prey because supposedly they also eat fruit and vegetables - and maybe he would be okay turning to veggies 100% for a while. In the mornings I would go pick up the vegetables again so that Quizzy the little naughty pony we have on the farm, wouldn't go and eat it as fences don't stop him lol.




Every morning I would find the vegetables untouched, but the remaining geese carcasses had been eaten more of. A few days ago we then in the morning saw a patch of feathers on the ground where the chickens sleep, and a trail of feather going towards the dam. Gian had invested in some wildlife books on mammals in South Africa and how to read their tracks, and had noticed some perfectly preserved paw prints in the mud by the dam where the chicken had been dragged to. Using his newly acquired skill, he determined that the paw prints were not mongoose prints -- but otter prints! The cape clawless ottter to be precise. Now this made both more sense and less sense, as otters are bigger than mongoose and thus can carry a goose -- but at the same time it didn't make sense because their diet is supposed to be limited to crabs, fish and frogs. We used to have crabs in the river but it had been a while since we had seen any. We had fish but many had been eaten by fish eating birds like the heron and spoonbills. Now that it was winter and not much rain had passed, the dam had not received any new water from higher up in the valley, where usually fish would flood in with the new water of the summer rains flooding rivers and dams all over the place. The frogs -- they go and hide and hibernate all throughout winter.
So, now that his natural diet had become unavailable, the otter had decided to start eating the next best thing in the water -- which was first ducklings, then ducks and now geese. Going bigger and bigger as he ran out of options.

So this is the story / background to our chicken/duck/goose snatchings -- and in my next blog I will get to the actual point that I wanted to share lol.
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