A is for Aardvark ~ Close encounter with one of the world’s most amazing animals.

 First view, sleeping beauties 

A is for Aardvark ~ Close encounter with one of the world’s most amazing animals

My husband has long had a love for an unusual creature. Coming at the start of the dictionary and top of the list of animals nobody knows a lot about, aardvarks have enchanted him almost as long as we’ve been together. By one of those coincidences we live a few miles from one of only three places in Britain that has them, and the only one that offers the public the chance to get up close and personal with them.

The aardvark is a shy African animal that puzzled the first white settlers in Africa. Looking at it, they decided it must be some kind of pig but one that lived in the earth, so they named it Aardvark, which is Afrikaans for Earth-pig. There is not a single related species anywhere left on the planet; they are unique. Living on termites and ants, aardvarks can dig through rock hard earth and even concrete(as those who keep them in zoos found out) using incredibly powerful feet equipped with claws that are as hard as hooves. A male ‘vark can weigh up to around 63 kg, and the animal is about two or so feet at the shoulder.

Africa Alive wildlife park in Kessingland has three aardvarks: the male, Crigley and two females, Ellie and Mischa. They hope to have them breed, as the zoo at Colchester has successfully bred aardvarks, but so far, there has been only one still birth. Little is known about their lifestyle in the wild; the arrival of night photography has begun to open up a world hitherto unknown to humans. Studying them in captivity is adding to our understanding of their physiology and their behaviour. In the wild, their main predator is the lion, though they have been known to simply dig their way out of trouble and a predator that follows them down a burrow will probably find themselves walled in and buried alive. An aardvark can dig as fast as two men with shovels, which gives you some idea of how powerful those feet can be.

As a birthday treat our daughter offered us a close encounter, and today we got to enjoy it.

Rubbing in aqueous cream. Their skins need some extra care to stop it getting dry and cracked. They’re still sleeping as we rub them.

Their skin feels a little like a pigs, but the hair is softer. They smell a bit piglike too, but mixed with a smell of fermenting fruit and an overtone of musky, like a ferret.

This gives you a better idea of their size.

I was blown away by their sheer good nature!

That tongue is actually 45cm long and it used to for scoffing termites and ants!

The bottle contains meal worms and Mischa scoffed them down amazingly fast with her sticky and virtually prehensile tongue. They can stand on their hindlegs quite happily. Note the front feet, equipped with heavy duty claws.

The aardvark has only rudimentary teeth and is unlikely to try and bite. These three were super-laidback and happy around people. They are clumsy though so you can be knocked off your feet by them going through rather than round you. They’re incredibly powerful animals for their size; it took six keepers to hold Ellie down when the vet needed to give her an injection. They barely slowed her, let’s say.

The experience was utterly magical and we came away with immense grins. The aardvarks have a very serene energy and are contented and relaxed.

All in all, a wonderful morning.

Pavlov’s Cat

 

Some twenty years or more ago, my brother came to visit us for a long weekend and he brought with him a few presents and his own agenda. When he presented us with a gift for our first wedding anninversary, I ought to have been suspicious but being the polite soul I am, when I opened it I thanked him as graciously as I could, given that he’d decided a desk bell was the perfect gift for an almost-newly-wed couple. That was where his agenda began.

In some ways it wasn’t so much a present for us as a device to torment our cat, Watson.

   “I’m going to train him,” my brother said confidently.

  “Good luck with that,” I said. Dubious is my middle name some times

“Like Pavlov’s dogs, only with your cat,” he continued. “I reckon cats aren’t much different from dogs…”

He’d also bought a bag of expensive cats treats that one friend described as being like cocaine for cats. His grand idea was to ring the bell and give Watson a treat and that over a short period of time the cat would come when the bell was rung. He hadn’t planned on measuring salivation but the cat appearing at the sound of the bell was his main goal and over the weekend, it worked beautifully. If Watson was in earshot of the bell, he’d be in and waiting for his cocaine  treat.

My brother left on Monday deeply satisfied that he’d trained my cat. I admit I had been surprised that Watson had fallen so readily into his plan but I guessed that was the power of those rather delicious treats. Not so.

Shortly after I had come back from saying goodbye to my brother at the station, the true events of the weekend came to light. I didn’t work on Mondays so I was upstairs sorting out laundry when I heard something downstairs. Now, I was alone in the house and no one had access to the house except me and my husband, himself at work by that point.

The bell was ringing.

A few minutes previously, I had heard the cat flap open and Watson had come in from whatever hunting expedition he’d been on. Now we used to keep Watson inside at night because at the time catskinners roamed the area catching cats to skin for the fur trade, but the cat flap had been one with a lock. The lock had taken Watson ten minutes to figure out and he’d let himself straight out so we had been forced to manually block it at night to stop him getting out. The flap remained open until about ten or eleven at night and opened around 6.30am. Normally, he was off out all day hunting and only came home for meals or if it rained. This was around ten o’clock, so he’d come home for other reasons and when I came downstairs, I saw why.

Watson was perched on the shelf where we’d left the bell and the bag of treats. He’d carefully opened the bag and had one paw resting on the bell and as I watched, he raised the paw carefully and struck the button to make the bell ring, then he put his head into the treats and ate one.

Ding-munch, Ding-munch.

I watched in growing understanding for about thirty seconds before Watson raised his head and still chewing, gave me a look of such unmistakeable contempt that had he been human, he would have made a gesture with either one finger or two depending on nationality. He hit the bell one last time and walked off, still chewing.

That was the last time anyone tried to train that cat.

(For more tales of the ginger fury, please read:https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/watson-and-the-flying-birdcage/ )