I take Jack for a walk twice every day. He is like an alarm clock, starting to get restless and mumbling to me – then nudging me and eventually barking to get my attention at 12.00 and 4.30 pm every day.
On the weekends I try and take him to the beach. But during the week we wander around the neighbourhood – varying the route. And so have become familiar with many of the other inhabitants. Especially the animal life.
The Liesbeeck River runs off to the sea through a specially designed culvert a kilometer from home. There is a great park attached to it – and a wide field for dog exercising, softball and the like. The river is home to a number of bird species: guineafowl, seagull, crested ibis, occasionally flamingo, duck and my favourite – Egyptian Geese.
Over the years I have watched one of the pairs (they mate for life) bring up their goslings. They’re very family oriented – so the babies stay with their parents until they are well grown. Then they are encouraged to mate by being chased away by their dad. That’s if they last that long. One of my dog walking pals, who is a wild bird enthusiast, estimates that 60 percent of the babies die within three weeks of their birth – mainly through predators and getting lost. Occasionally the whole species will get hit by a virus that creates mutated babies. And then there’s natural selection.
And – as of Thursday – murder.
I watched absolutely gobstruck as a huge male dive-bombed and terrorized our local pair. He attacked over and over again.. it was like watching “Apocalypse Now”. Each time he would land screaming, grab a baby, swing it around visciously breaking it’s neck, be chased off by the father, and retreat. Only to return a few seconds later. He was unrelenting.
Eventually the traumatized parents managed to get their surviving offspring into a pipe and hunch over them – but one of the goslings was left alone on the river, and his frantic peeping attracted the assassin. Who crashed into the water, grabbed the baby then submerged it, until the little body was still. Whereupon he pushed the corpse into the river, let it float past the parents. And flew off.
The whole thing took probably five minutes. And left only three of eight chicks alive. My shouting and Jack’s barking did nothing to distract the gander. He had murder on his mind.
Research revealed both sexes are aggressively territorial towards their own species when breeding and frequently pursue intruders into the air, attacking them in aerial “dogfights”. Neighbouring pairs may even kill another’s offspring for their own offspring’s survival as well as for more resources. Which, according to my pal was what was happening here.
It was horrible. And I went home devastated. My happy spring day quite spoiled.
Then this morning I woke early and took Jack in the opposite direction. Unwilling to revisit the scene of the crime. We walked up in the opposite direction and came across a scene of avian bliss: a group of guinea fowl and a good twenty chicks, and another pair of Geese and their 10. The adults saw us and herded their children away. And Jack walked past calmly and left the whole group be. I think he felt they deserved the time together after what he had seen the day before.
I agreed. Nature’s balance was restored. Now if only Egypt and Syria would follow suit.
(All images in the public domain)