Then came the feeding bit. We knew little about dassie diets except that they ate grass and all the best flowers in our garden, fastidiously eating the blossoms first then the leaves to leave us small forests of empty stalks.
Feeding wild animals is a hot topic in South Africa. It can bring ardent conservationists to ferocious verbal battle. The problem is that there are no guidelines for all wild things.
For instance, everyone agrees wild baboons should not be fed because when they lose their fear of people they aggressively help themselves to anything that may be or contain food.
Try to stop them and they are likely to attack. A baboon’s fangs are as big as a leopard’s. There are few things more frightening than a charging baboon with jaws wide, lips drawn right back and bared fangs aimed like daggers.
They can do serious damage and even kill. It means that when a baboon becomes so familiarised to people it presents a threat, the wildlife authorities have to trap and execute it.
This doesn’t stop our annual flood of international tourists from giving snacks to roadside baboons. We can’t afford to lose some dumb Azerbaijani or New Yorker that way. Bad for the tourist trade.
On that we all agree. But feeding dassies? They have digestions that will conquer almost anything and they are very picky about what they eat. On top of Table Mountain there are fat dassies who sprawl amid the limestone rocks like Roman aristocrats at a banquet, lazily munching whatever they choose from the junk food tourists drop on them, not even bothering to get up from their sand beds to eat.
Certainly nobody in his right mind would attempt to try this tactic with wild lions or hyaenas or elephants. A few specialists do it, like the man in Ethiopia who nightly feeds butchery scraps to a horde of hyaenas. And the man in Botswana who kept several full-grown leopards in a large wire-mesh enclosure they could have bust their way out of any time they wanted – but didn’t because the accommodation included a plentiful supply of meat.
He casually walked around inside the enclosure, once with me when I looked up to see a very big leopard examining me like a pork chop from a branch right over my head. Inevitably, the man was badly mauled by a bored leopard.
But these are freaks dangerously bending the rules.
Yet many game reserves put out food and drink to draw animals close to camps and viewing sites. Waterholes are the biggest and most natural attraction. Some additionally spread fodder and fruit. One in a citrus farming region used tons of reject oranges to attract elephants – a practice that stopped when elephants began breaking into cars where they could smell citrus. Tourists did not appreciate them that close.
To be continued _ 22 August…