I fell in love with birds of prey a few years ago while I was still a Game Ranging student. I don’t have a great eyesight so I was glad that I only had to familiarize myself with large-sh birds that would be easier to identify later. I soon found favorites in the Bateleur Eagle whose name means tight rope walker, the Gymnogene now called the African Harrier Hawk, the Lammergeyer also known as the bearded vulture and the common spotted eagle owl. I found that I did not want to persecute them for hunting my warm bodied cousins as I would persecute fellow human beings that do the same as the birds. In my modules I leaned of birds of the night, the Owl and the Night-jars and all the larger sized birds of prey of the day, from hawks to harriers, kestrels to falcon to kites, snake eagles to eagles to vultures and everything in between.
We fast forward to a month ago when I got the opportunity to look after a pair of barn owls, rescued after falling through a chimney at Midmar Dam. I was way more than excited, mind you I did not know of any stereotypes attached to witchcraft except for those in the Harry potter movies. I only knew of the owls full of wisdom from the movies that I watched during my childhood.
It felt like I had opened a can of worms into the creepiest of worlds where witches hollow out the bodies of owls and give them an enema filled with Muthi to turn them into their own personal zombies and where diviners use the eyes of the murdered birds to grind into a mixture that leads them to seeing far into the future and through the darkness of human misery.
But like all problems the owls are not the true culprits, we are the ones that dump rubbish illegally inviting the rats, where there are rats there are snakes and we hate the snakes as well even though the earth belongs to all those who live on it. Besides, we cannot except to inhabit the planet alone with the animals of our choice, that is against the true balance of nature and if we believe that witches commit such marvels, they should be able to commit them with whatever animal they wish.
One of the strangest questions I received while spreading the, “owls are our friends” message was, “How will people tell the difference between the zombie owls and the project owls?” This was tough to answer but I have never seen a zombie owl and neither had the person asking so it was safe to say let us speak only of the owls we have seen and know.
The owls being of a predatory nature meant that I had to feed them a day old dead chicks. The first time I was confronted with the task, I found it quite daunting as they looked like they were still moving while I walked with them thawed in the plastic bowl.
With more days passing and the same task repeated I grew immune. A while after their meal, each owl would regurgitate a pellet made of feathers and bones, sometimes the head of the chick would be in a pellets on its own still whole. My dogs Trevar and Sapphire tried to dig holes to gain access to the cage in the middle of the night to no avail though.
Now that the owls have been released, I have to admit that I do miss them. Even my mother who was septic at first warmed up to them, she was afraid of the screeching sound they make but Siphiwe and Gugu did not ever screech at night while they were in Captivity. The neighbors were delighted to have them around and kept checking on their well-being daily. Baba James Mlotshwa said he had so many rats in his yard that he wished they could circle over his house every night catching them.
We would like to extend gratitude to N3TC, Owl Box Project, Predatory Bird project and Raptor Rescue, this would not have been possible without them. We hope the pair breeds and more generations carry on the rodent eating legacy.