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Lessons learned from the animal kingdom

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Picture: ANA Photographers. (Compiled by Rabin Singh) – Elephants are known as the most enormous, most gentle creatures in the animal kingdom. Emotional, intelligent and beautiful in the wild, elephants have been rapidly decreasing due to poachers desiring their tusks. The populations have been declining quickly over time as a result. Save the Elephant Day aims to change those statistics by educating people about elephants. They hope this will encourage people to help save them from extinction.

By Wallace Mgoqi

As people we come into contact with animals I the domestic sphere or get to know even wild animals through reading about them in books or watching TV programs that feature the animal kingdom or through stories/legends told about animals.

From a little boy of around ten years of age, when my mother was asked to go and looked after my ailing grandfather in the Eastern Cape, on a farm which belonged to the government of the time, but was leased to a white farmer, it was the first time, I was exposed to both domestic and wild animals. The farm lies in Ethwathwa Valley, where the bones of the first Xhosa prophet lie, along a tributary to the Kat River, near the town of Fort Beaufort.

Humans and animals co-exist in the same ecological environment.

At the time it was full of wild animals ranging from hares, rock rabbits, all types of antelopes, small and large, bees, snakes, also of many kinds, birds of all kinds, warthogs, and donkeys were galore, breeding like nobody,s business.

There were cattle which belonged largely to the white farmer, who periodically came to inspect the goings-on on the farm. Cows that were milked had milk and fresh cream extracted from it and delivered to his home, almost every day.

As young boys, we learned how to ride on donkeys and some of us learnt some hard lessons from the naughtiness of donkeys. A snake catcher and honey harvester. My grandfather used to be a snake catcher, using a piece of cloth and some toxic powder, and light the cloth, put it in the hole where the snake went in. My grandmother was a traditional woman, who supervised the younger women in the family in executing their domestic chores, with a long pipe, always in her mouth, something grandpa could do little about as he was a strict Seventh Day Adventist convert.

There are dangerous animals.

The snake when so provoked would come out running, at which point, he would strike it until it was dead. No SPCA rules applied in that environment, a snake was regarded as dangerous to kill or be killed by it.

In fact, the land should have been declared a nature reserve. As humans, we are not fair-minded stewards of what Nature has bestowed upon us.

But sadly, over the years, from Sebe ( the Apartheid stooge, a homeland leader) those days, it deteriorated, into a barren land, raided by poachers, who made a clean sweep of the indigenous animals that were in the area.

Water the lifeblood for life is cut off.

The situation was exacerbated when one of the white farmers, whose farm was closest to the spring that fed the tributary, decided to divert the water to flow only to the dams that he built, and hundreds of people, who used to be by sustained by the water from the tributary, were cut off and forced to leave the area, in their numbers. Sadly, there was no intervention from the government or any source to stop this abuse of power by an individual, who acted with such impunity and got away with it.

The selfishness and wickedness of man destroy. The same farmer who had enjoyed living on this farm, which was State land, with the largesse of the Apartheid government, for generations of his family.

Homeland consolidation displaced some white families. When the homeland government system was introduced, for the consolidation of the homelands, some white farmers were driven out of the land, they had occupied over long periods of time. On leaving the Brandt family, making sure that black people who would remain behind did not continue to enjoy fruits from many fruit trees that we were enjoying from a myriad of fruit trees, in a two-acre piece of land, that was called Emyezweni “meaning “ orchard – a piece of enclosed land planted with fruit trees “ like the Garden of Eden, where every type of fruit tree grew. He apparently poisoned every fruit tree in the orchard so that all those who remained behind would not continue to enjoy. He had no spirit of “ Live and let live” in him.

Hunting had many lessons for me.

I used to go with my grandfather, to hunt when his health still allowed him to do so until he could not. Dogs were used for hunting, and I realized then the loyalty, reliability, dependability and trustworthiness of dogs, character qualities, we as humans share with the animal kingdom.

Animals have a mind like humans.

The mind of animals may be less developed, for example, they are incapable of self-reflection, or critical analysis, as we humans do, but still have a mind, at some level. Another observation is one would watch the more experienced oxen, ( voor’osse) during the planting or harvesting season, how they would come out, once they see the yokes being taken out, and come to stand in line, ready to be yoked. I found this quite amazing, unlike the younger, in-experienced oxen, which caused trouble when about to be yoked.

Once a year, men would gather with buckets to go to the nearest rock for harvesting honey from bees that were making it, and they would return to the households with buckets full of honey.

The area is part of the Citrus -producing fields along the Kat River famous for producing sweet oranges, as well as sweet grapes around June and February respectively, it would be another time of joy and jubilation for both young and old, as well as in harvest time for wheat, barley and maize, in particular.

Animals share certain critical character qualities with humans.

Much later in life, this loyalty to dogs was when we started our life as a family in Langa. One night my wife was awakened by the noise of someone, who was trying to gain entry into the house, whilst we were sleeping. We had a dog called Gcina and wondered why the dog did not even bark. The following were attending church in Guguletu, and were so angry with Gcina, and decided we were going to dump him next to the shacks near KTC. Indeed, we put Gcina in the boot and left next to the road near KTC, hoping that one of the shack dwellers would pick him up and give him a home.

But, alas, the following Sunday we followed the same route, and as we were approaching KTC, there came Gcina, dangling his tail in the air, happy that we came. Our hearts softened when we witnessed the loyalty and endurance of this dog and took him back. When Gcina was restored, he became so wild and vengeful, as if to compensate for his lackadaisical approach to his duties as a guard dog before. Gcina’s story has always stayed with me as one of the loyalty of a dog – a true and best man’s friend.

We know now also about cruel and wicked animals like crocodiles, notorious for killing people near places like Lake St Lucia, in Isimangaliso Wetland Park/ Nature Reserve in KZN.

An animal would find a man taking a rest under the shade of a tree, grab him how and drag him deep into the water in order to suffocate him, then break his back and eat him up. We also know the defence tactics of a baboon that might be harassed by either a leopard or tiger the baboon would quickly run up the face of the rock and when it reaches the top, starts rolling some rocks down, in order to hit the predator, until it gives up on harassing it.

Legend has it that two men were travelling a long distance, it could have been from Springbok to Kimberley in the Northern Cape. On the way they across some antelopes, the one man said antelopes in his country were much larger than these, about the size of a cow.

The other said he must be careful because there was a river ahead that did not allow liars to pass through. As they proceeded, he kept conceding that the antelopes in his country were indeed smaller than he stated at first.

When they were really close, he admitted that, in fact, it was his first time seeing an antelope, he had never seen it before. This is how animals can turn people into liars.

We owe nature and ourselves and the world a duty of care. Our earth as our permanent habitat deserves better treatment and care from us, humans than we have meted out to it for centuries now. It has enough resources to sustain all of us, but our selfish hearts and motives have led to the destruction of these resources Nature has provided us. with. This one incident shows just how with wicked hearts we can never live up to the essence of sustainable development is – “ living in such a way as to meet the needs of the present generation, without compromising the needs of future generations”.

We have a duty to protect, conserve and enhance our environment, natural and heritage assets and resources that Mother Nature has endowed with, ensuring that we pass them on to generations coming after us. This is more so now that climate change is advancing at an irreversible pace, our world is in peril.

Mgoqi is Chairman of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity.