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This is the remarkable story of a blind male Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo Africanus), called “Tokkelosh” that was rescued from a Sangoma (witchdoctor) who held him captive and most probably tortured him in order to gain control over the “so called” powers of the owl. The Sangoma’s here in South Africa believe that, if an owl suffers a lot before he dies, that he will make contact with the spirit world and his ancestors and that the owl’s powers to cast a spell of bad luck onto somebody will then be transferred to the Sangoma. The torturing normally takes the form of the owl being tied to his feet with a piece of string or wire and then suspended upside down from a branch or other object and then repeatedly being beaten with a stick or something else over the body and head. This torturing normally takes place over a couple of days, until the poor owl eventually dies, either from his injuries or from hunger, pain and dehydration. “Tokkelosh” was found, tied with a piece of copper wire to his left leg, hanging from a washing line. He was in a very poor condition and was barely alive when rescued. The trauma and repeated beating against the head with a stick or whatever object was used, left him completely blind. There is nothing wrong with his eyes, but according to an eye specialist, his visual cortex was permanently damaged, leaving him with no hope to regain his sight again.

“Tokkelosh” was immediately sent to me in the hope that “Uiltjie” would take him under his wing and adopt him. Because of the extent of his injuries and the fact that he could not see, I however had to first take care of him myself and also had to teach him how to eat again and how to find his food. After a couple of weeks he remarkably recovered from his injuries, but unfortunately remained blind. At that stage I received two orphaned owlets and decided to put them into the same nest box as the blind owl in the hope that their presence would help him to orientate himself and would also maybe interest “Uiltjie” to adopt all three of them and feed them.

You can imagine my surprise when this blind owl immediately adopted the two owlets and began taking care of them, feeding them and grooming them. The blind owl was a male, but because of the fact that he remained in the nest permanently with the young owlets, they accepted him as their mother and he began fulfilling the role of the female owl. “Uiltjie”, true to his nature, adopted all three of them, but as it normally is with young owlets, the orphans at first would not accept any food from him, but only from the female i.e. the blind owl. Thus “Uiltjie” began bringing rodents to the blind owl, who then fed it to the young owlets. I also provided some food to them as “Uiltjie” could not provide enough to keep them all fed properly and the blind owl made sure that the owlets each received his fair share. This poor owl did not even know where the food was coming  from and whether there would be again the next day, but yet he would first make sure that the owlets were well fed and happy, before he would even think of eating himself.

When the owlets were still young I had to cut the food into smaller pieces as the male owl normally do not tear it up into smaller pieces. It is only the female that do this and that is most probably why the male only begins feeding the owlets once they can swallow the prey whole, without it having to be torn into smaller pieces. I personally think that this is most probably because the male cannot waste valuable time at the nest, tearing up food for the owlets. He can and must rather spend his time searching for prey to bring to the nest where the female can do the rest. The reason why I am mentioning this is because I noticed something very peculiar and almost unbelievable. Being blind, “Tokkelosh” could not see how much food was put down in front of him, so he had to determine a way to find out how much he could feed to a particular owlet? If it was whole food like an uncut chicken or rodent it was easy for him to determine if there were one or two or maybe more, but with a heap of food cut into small pieces this was not so easy. So it looks like he developed his own system, and believe me, I saw him doing it, not once, but many times. As soon as I put the cut food down in front of him, he would actually take it, piece by piece, and repack it into a new heap, almost as if he was taking stock of how much there were. Only after he had done his evaluation, would he begin feeding the owlets. I honestly don’t know if he really tried to determine how much food there was, but to me it surely looked like he was counting it. As the owlets grew older, the blind owl became more accustomed to his surroundings and even began flying around in the room, looking for the owlets, listening to the sounds that they make, carrying a mouse or chicken that I gave him with him to feed to whichever owlet he could locate.
At that stage a third orphaned owlet was sent to me. He was maybe a couple of days older than the other two, but I decided to introduce him to the family as well. The blind owl and “Uiltjie” immediately accepted him, but the two younger owlets were not very happy with this newcomer. After two or three days they however also accepted him, but he always had to wait until they had eaten, before they would allow him to be fed. Tokkelosh never forgot about this third owlet and always made sure that he was well fed too. As the three owlets grew older, they began accepting food from “Uiltjie” as well and it was not long before they began venturing outside. “Uiltjie now began taking over responsibility for them and took them on hunting lessons at night, teaching them the tricks of the trade. Of course the blind owl could not join them, but remained behind, waiting eagerly for them to return in the morning, or sometimes during the night if the hunting did not go as well as planned. Every now and again one of the owlets would come flying through the open window and then the blind owl would be ready with a day old chicken that I gave to him, to feed the hungry owlet. As the owlets grew older, the nightly visits grew scarcer and scarcer, but every morning the three owlets would return to come and sleep in the nest box together with their “mother”. This kept on for almost three months, until “Uiltjie” decided that enough is enough. The owlets were now fully grown and able to fend for themselves and “Uiltjie”, true to the nature of all Spotted Eagle Owls, knew that he had to chase them out of his territory in order to rest his hunting grounds to make place for the next season’s orphans.
Now, two years later, Tokkelosh has so far adopted and successfully raised 12 orphaned owlets with the help of “Uiltjie”. He has become so independent that he sometimes even tries to feed “Uiltjie” himself. Unfortunately the damage to his visual cortex is permanent and he will remain blind for the rest of his life. But this does not seem to bother him too much and definitely does not keep him from living a full life and helping orphaned owlets to have a natural childhood, keeping them from being imprinted onto human beings, which most probably would have been the case if he and “Uiltjie” did not adopt them.
It is sad that the local people here in South Africa still believe that the sight of an owl is a bad omen and that things like this happens almost every day.  It is hard to believe that they still believe that if a person eats the eyes of an owl that that person will inherit the owl’s ability to see in the dark and that Sangoma’s still make use of the foot of the owl to cast spells. (almost like the magic wand of sorcerers). Sometimes, like with vervet monkeys, the feet are cut off while the poor owl is still alive and then left just like that, to die a death of excruciating pain and agony. Please forgive me if I say that I don’t have much love for Sangoma’s. Also understand that I am the first one to acknowledge that there are good traditional healers under the Zulu and Xhosa people who have an excellent knowledge and understanding of medicinal herbs and plants and that it is maybe the minority of traditional healers that practice these terrible things, but unfortunately it does happen and unfortunately at a bigger scale than what most people would care to believe.
I named the blind owl “Tokkelosh”, after a mythical figure in Xhosa and Zulu folk lore. According to legends the “Tokkelosh” is a very mischievous small man that is known to kill people at night time. It is suspected that the local people, who love making fires in their huts at night, died because of the carbon monoxide in the hut. Because carbon monoxide is a heavy gas, the people sleeping on carpets on the floor died first and the ones sleeping on higher beds, most probably were lucky enough to escape with their lives. Most of these unexplained deaths are then explained in folk lore by saying that the people had been killed by the “Tokkelosh” and that it is because he is a short person, that he could not reach the people sleeping on higher beds and thus could only kill the ones sleeping on the floor. Up until today you will still find Zulu and Xhosa people putting their beds onto bricks or paint tins to prevent the ‘Tokkelosh” from reaching and killing them in their sleep. I thought, considering that he was rescued from a Sangoma, that “Tokkelosh” would be an appropriate name for the blind owl, connecting him to their world of folk lore and myths. When “Tokkelosh” is not busy raising orphaned owlets, he is being used to educate people at the local schools about owls. His name immediately grabs their attention and opens a field of discussion. Hopefully this education will help change the beliefs of these people and maybe, just maybe will one day help save the life of another owl or maybe a rhinoceros or any other animal being hunted for “muti” purposes. One never knows.


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