For context, I need to tell you that I recently moved from Durban (‘my city’ for more than 50 years) to Amber Valley, a large retirement village on the Karkloof Road just outside Howick. Coincidentally, my Mansfield grandparents retired from Johannesburg to Howick in the 1950s.
From the Karkloof Road, this 1 000-plus home estate looks a bit like a concentration camp – with row after row of single-story green-roofed dwellings. But drive inside and you will find a safe, remarkably spacious, remarkably well run suburb set in nature.
The Amber human residents share their space with more than 250 bird species, a large number of zebras, even larger numbers of impala, many blesbok and warthog, and countless smaller mammals and insects.
For most people, zebras are like pretty, friendly, horses. Such people don’t know that not all horses are nice and that some are, in fact, quite nasty and kick and bite with little or no warning. The bites can lead to bleeding and massive bruises. The kicks can break limbs and kill dogs and even lions.
The story begins
This morning I am taking my two dogs, Rocket and Luna, on a walk to our favourite dam – I like to spot the large fish and they like playing in the water. As we walk along the dam wall I notice a number of pretty looking zebras grazing on the Kikuyu grass near the far end of the wall.
I ensure that we give the zebras a fairly wide berth, but one zebra is taking a particular interest in us and starts to follow. Then some of the others do likewise, As we walk other zebras join the parade of followers. There are about 12 now. I am becoming a bit apprehensive, stop and turn around. The zebras stop too. I turn again and walk on (in all of this the dogs are becoming a little excited but are still remarkably silent). The zebras follow again.
Close range, kicking mad
A short distance further I sit down on a bench and get the dogs to sit beside me. There is a picnic table in front of us (I am hoping the zebras will walk on by). But the lead follower approaches very close, Luna and the zebra are sniffing each other, literally nose to nose. Suddenly the zebra turns, snorts, and lets out an almighty kick in our direction. Fortunately, the very strong recycled plastic table takes the cracking blow. This is beginning to feel like the ‘revenge of the zebras’.
We start to move again, quickly. Semi-surrounded by the now menacing looking zebras, we walk carefully towards the nearest road. They follow, one or other of the zebras occasionally raising its head and snorting. Now on the road, we walk faster with the zebras a few metres behind, their hooves clip-clopping on the cement road.
Peter the Pied Piper?
The hoof noise is getting closer. I turn, wave my arms and loudly tell them to f-off. The zebras stop. We walk on. They start to follow again. A woman walking towards us tells me that I look like the Pied Piper with all these zebras following me. The zebras take no interest in her. They clearly have us in their sights!
Scared and shout
We again walk on. Initially the zebras fall further behind but, suddenly, there is a loud clattering on concrete. I turn and see that the zebras are coming towards us, fast. Now I am scared. I shout loudly, waving my arms and hat and start moving towards them. For the first time, the dogs start barking. Fortunately, the zebras scatter, heads raised, eyes shining, noses snorting. They gather at some distance, eye us, and go back to grazing.
We walk home. Living in nature can be a mixed blessing!
A few days later: I have just heard of a dogless man being chased by zebras in one one of the game areas. Apparently, he was running and appeared frightened. (if there a rogue zebra among us?)
Zebra-lovers might be interested to learn that the stripes on every zebra are a work of nature’s art. No two zebras have the same markings. Every zebra looks different if you look closely enough. As to their nature, I cannot say whether every one of them has a nasty streak.
Since writing this piece, I have been advised that both zebras and warthogs have a particular dislike for dogs. Zebras can kick them to death, while warthogs can rip them to death with their tusks.