Friday, 5 September 2014

Rescuing zebras, learning the alphabet...

There is a magnificent game reserve close to the town of Cradock in the Karoo, where The Housemaid's Daughter is set. It's called the Mountain Zebra National Park, and it has the distinction of having saved a species.

Zebras have always caught the imagination. "Horses in striped pyjamas", we think, when we first see them in picture books, or when they are co-opted to teach us our letters: Z is for Zebra. In my novel, Ada is introduced to the zebra in just that way.

But by the 1900s, zebras were in trouble, especially the Mountain Zebra, a species distinct from the more plentiful plains zebra. A sub-species called the quagga had already become extinct and it seemed that the mountain zebra would soon join it unless a tract of suitable land could be found where it would be safe from predators, particularly man.

In the nick of time, the Mountain Zebra National Park was proclaimed in 1937. A founder group of less than 10 animals was provided from local conservation-conscious farmers and thus begin the great revival. From that first vulnerable herd, the population in the Park has steadily grown to some 700 animals. What a success! Especially when we hear of the tragic decline of so many other species, like the rhinos and elephants being poached in other parts of Africa.

I wonder if Ada ever saw a zebra? Perhaps I should have contrived a meeting. After all, she loved the veld...
"I would put Dawn on my back and walk to where the sky met the earth, for the pleasure of being on my own and yet part of a company with the birds and the small animals that scurried about us.
When the sun was at its highest, Dawn and I would squat in the bony shade of a thorn tree... the heat of the veld stretched into watery mirages far ahead...

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