The wild around us
It’s a happy coincidence that my sister and I currently find ourselves living together, like two spinsters in a Jane Austen novel. Every morning, we rise at around 5am and head out to the mountain close to the infamous Rhodes Memorial for our morning ‘constitutional’. For those that don’t know, Rhodes Mem is part of Table Mountain National Park, around which Cape Town city is spreading. We’ve become familiar with the area. At one corner we stop and search for a pair of African eagle owls. On the morning of writing this, one peered at us, gave a gratifying hoot, spread its wings and dropped away into the gloom as cyclists came panting by. On our way back down, we always listen out for the piping ‘kew’ of a resident rufous-chested sparrowhawk. Around us, the flora is filled with the chatter of birds, most of which I don’t know, sadly. Recently I read an interesting opinion from an ecologist and lecturer at an Australian university. She talked about ecological illiteracy, and how her biology students are unable to identify plants and creatures. To quote her, ‘While people spend more time indoors in front of screens, we become less aware of the birds, plants and bugs in our backyards and neighbourhoods. This leads to an alienation from nature that is harmful to our health, our planet and our spirit.’ In all cities of the world, wildlife is present, sometimes quite visibly. Berliners have wild boars, so comfortable they even breed there. Chicago has coyotes. Mumbai has resident leopards (hardly ever seen) and British cities have their foxes. In the Cape we have baboons, while Durban has its monkeys. In Fish Hoek, writes Getaway’s Michelle Hardie, our insider regularly spots francolins on the nearby hiking trails (page 115). All around us our urban world is full of bugs, from annoying flies and industrious ants to ephemeral butterflies. They’re very much part of our urban environments. What if we make an effort to learn about them, teach our children about them, integrate them more into our world? For example, an organisation called EcoSolutions, a pest management company in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town ( ecosolutions.co.za), encourages people to put up owl boxes to control rodents. Imagine all of that feathered magnificence and beauty in your backyard – my cat Ozzie might object, as pets might be up for, erm, grabs but I suspect he’d prefer death by owl to a detested car ride and euthanasia by vet. Keen to learn more? One way to do it is by entering our online urban wild photo competition (see page 15) – it’s a great way to engage with nature every day, also for children. For greater immersion, go to one of our fabulous farm stays (page 62), and for full-scale immersion, plan a trip to one of the wildest places in Africa, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe (page 82). It’ll set your soul alight.