There are many sought-after books on exploration, hunting, and general wilderness adventures in Africa to be found John Donaldson Books & Publications in Richmond, Northern Cape. Then you come to a stuffed giraffe at the end of a long, crowded corridor and wonder what it is.
“I got a giraffe to settle a debt,” says Donaldson.
“He was a mechanic at Roodepoort who owed me money and couldn’t get the money. So I said give me something in return. So he handed me two trophies, one a kudu and the other a giraffe. Now the giraffe lives here. I’m not sure where the kudu lives these days.”
The boys lucky enough to grow up in the Karoo have always kept an amazing array of household pets, including meerkats, snakes, hedgehogs, parrots and pigeons. Most outgrow this love of “animal owners” with the arrival of adulthood.
Les Frank Wilk Jr. is from Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape. No, young Frank established a turtle zoo in the village and soon moved on to baboons, jackals, monkeys, porcupines and all kinds of animals.
As the years went by, he expanded his zoo into an export business and moved the zoo to the outskirts of Aberdeen for additional space. At one point, he could boast of a group of more than thirty lions in his care.
Frank had a special love for the circus, and the performance of lions in particular. To this end, he purchases Tikkie and Tokkie from Boswell’s Circus and they quickly become local darlings.
He also bought all of the Pagel Circus monsters in 1950 for the sum of £4,000. The strong man in the South African circus world was Wilhelm Pagell, who Frank Wilke had endorsed. In fact, he named his mansion in Aberdeen Pagel House in honor of his fellow senior.
About 70 years ago, residents of the small town of Karoo could take pictures next to a prop of Frank Wilk’s lions. They were completely safe, because he cunningly inserted a thick plate of glass between the person and the predator.
If you’re a blueberry ostrich boy along the R62 mind your own business, and admire the beauty Swartberg Mountains and love the morning sun on your poles, you are advised to beware of the Little Karoo sirens.
Don’t be fooled by their dull plumage. Instead, look at their beautiful eyelashes, their curvy spotted beaks and the glow in their eyes. Listen and wait as they rock your amazing glowing legs and triple-step dance moves.
Such an ostrich girl is likely to make you act outrageous. You might end up wriggling and snapping your neck in pleasure, flapping your wings as if you were suddenly taking the lead in a skit mostly reserved for large birds only.
The act itself has epic qualities that are not always reflected in the female’s sexual behavior. As you gleefully scurry away, you will likely be distracted by absent-mindedly clicking on the floor. Hence the term “bird brains”.
Legend has it that in the town of Montagu during the Victorian era, good burghers were shocked, dismayed, and perhaps a little envious at the mating habits of the local ostriches in the farm fields.
They were particularly displeased with the romantic dancing that took place before the show itself, and forbade ostrich farmers in the area from publicly displaying their horned birds.
Crows, foxes and stars
Roger Young of Kruis Rivier outside Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo is known for producing wise Afrikaans sayings, often earning him a lot of casual respect in his neighbourhood.
The emblem of his work is a tandem image of a howling jackal and a gushing tail of a comet.
“When I came here in 2006, Comet McNaught was overhead, and on my first night, jackals were calling nearby.”
In various strategic locations in the buildings he has turned into guest accommodation, studio and workspace, insert little bas-reliefs with sayings such as:
“Crows can fly over the stars(Crows can fly over the stars)
“Come and put your ideas in front of the fire(Come put your thoughts before the fire.)
Therein lies the problem. Roger Young hardly speaks a word of Afrikaans, being english soti To the core. He’s just a country soul who’s gained some wisdom along the way, and she’s enjoying it.
Sylvester’s new spot
Sylvester He first gained his name and fame when he escaped from the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West in June 2015. He was two years old – the lion’s equivalent of a human teenager.
Thanks to social media and round-the-clock news updates, Sylvester becomes an overnight sensation, wandering 300km across cattle farms and the Neufeld mountains, leaving a trail of frantic gossip, anxious farmers and the carcasses of 28 sheep in his wake.
The lion led South Africa’s best trackers and six bloodhounds in a playful dance across the rugged terrain. His arrest three weeks later couldn’t have been more dramatic, involving a bizarrely deceptive shot from a National Parks vet wielding a tranquilizer dart gun from a helicopter.
Sylvester was brought back to his former home park unconscious and was swinging from a cargo bag below the helicopter, a dangerous operation that began with a game of catching helicopter blades flying just meters from the craggy mountain peaks.
By then it had punched a hole in SANParks budget. In March 2016, it broke out again. This time it was easier to find him – he was wearing a newly fitted radio collar. After three days and one cow died, he was brought home.
In May 2016, Sylvester was transferred to Kosoku Lodge in the Eastern Cape, where he was fortunately born a handful of cubs.
Texas Jack comes to town
In 1903, Bankberg’s mountain zebra at the Eastern Cape Karoo attracted the attention of a troupe of American circus jockeys, led by Texas Jack Jr..
The showman’s famous Wild West Circus went all over South Africa, and was a particular success with reef mining camps and small land towns everywhere.
In South Africa, Texas Jack met and trained Will Rogers, who was to become an iconic cowboy and cyclist.
On this occasion, however, Texas Jack Jr.’s crew chased these wild striped horses up and down the valleys outside Craddock, through the same area that would later become the famous Mountain Zebra National Park.
Skeptical locals gathered with picnic baskets to witness the spectacle, as the cowboys actually managed to grab some.
The most dramatic incident occurred later when one of the circus riders, Mexican Belle, accepted a bet that he could ride a wild zebra.
Paul Mishaw, whose ranch now forms an integral part of the park, reports that Mexican Bel Lasso jumped from his horse, threw a saddle over the zebra “and with great audacity”, rode down the mountainside home.
It was, in Mischau’s words, “a feat which I would not have seen possible had I not witnessed it myself”.
Texas Jack Jr. died in Kronstadt in 1905. He was survived by his partner Lil Marr, a sniper on his traveling show.
Goats are not allowed
“Do you see the mountain range over there? Then then? This is where my donkeys are. One day I will go and get them.”
Koos Stoffel from Eksteenfontein points out a very deep spot in the Richtersveld that may also be in Namibia.
“Why are they all the way there, and you all the way here?” we ask.
They want to wander away, because donkeys don’t like goats. They don’t want to be anywhere near a goat. Few people know that,” Koss says, staring at a shepherd passing his ragtag flock. DM
For an insider’s look at life in the Karoo, get three special book Karoo Roads I, Karoo Roads II and Karoo Roads III by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais for only R800, including courier costs in South Africa. For more details contact Julie at [email protected]