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THE CARING OWL: CHAPTER 1:- FIRST ENCOUNTER
Some of my friends call me “The Owl Whisperer”, while most of my workers call me “Indoda Yesikhova” (The Owl Man), but my real name is Chris Pretorius and, although I sometimes whisper to my owls, I won’t call myself an owl whisperer. (The only reason why I whisper to them is so that my family don’t laugh at this crazy old man talking to his owls). I am just an ordinary man like most of you, but maybe with an extraordinary relationship with a magnificent and very special African Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo Africanus) called “Uiltjie” (Diminutive for owl in Afrikaans), or maybe better known as “The Caring Owl”. I know he actually deserves a more exotic name, but that is what I called him when he first arrived on the farm and that is what he answers to, so I am afraid he is stuck with it.
But before I begin to tell you the amazing story of this owl, let me first give you a little bit of background about myself and my family.
I have been happily married for 37 years and have 5 children, 3 daughters and two sons, as well as 4 grand children. We live on a small farm called “Elandskloof”, in the district of Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. When we bought the farm there were only 3 birds on the entire property, 2 Fork Tailed Drongo’s and a Brown Hooded Kingfisher. The previous owner and his sons killed all wildlife on the farm, leaving only these 3 birds to survive their hunting frenzy. Now, ten years later, there are more than 70 documented species of birds on the property, most of which are breeding here regularly. This just shows that a human being with a gun in his hand and no love for animals can be much more devastating to bird life than the 25 cats that we have.
We do not really farm on the property, but have made it our mission in life to help sick, injured or abandoned animals and are currently taking care of 15 dogs, 25 cats, 17 horses, 18 donkeys, 2 pigs, 4 goats, 1 rock monitor, a lot of poultry, about 50 wild Yellow Billed Ducks, a Grey Heron, Harrier Hawk, Rock Kestrel, a lot of smaller wild birds and yes, a couple of owls.
All of these animals, except for one of the horses, which was a gift to my eldest daughter on her 7th birthday, have a history of neglect or abuse or was abandoned or just not wanted by their owners anymore. Most of them were sent to us by the local pet care association or the local vet, but some of them just found their own way to our farm like “Uiltjie”, my African Spotted Eagle Owl. I call him mine, but he does not actually belong to me. He is a free bird and comes and goes as he pleases.
It was a mild autumn evening in the beginning of April 2007 when “Uiltjie” showed up on the farm for the first time. I was taking a bath after a strenuous day at work when I suddenly heard the chatter of the 2 Fork Tailed Drongo’s that nest in the roof on the porch in front of our bedroom. They would normally make this chattering noise when one of our cats get to close to their nest, but this time their chattering sounded more urgent. Soon I could hear other birds joining them in their chattering and I knew that this was no cat stalking them. The first thought that went through my mind was that it might be a snake, but then suddenly a new sound pierced the night. I immediately recognised it as the hoot of an owl. The birds immediately stopped their chattering and suddenly it was so quiet that one could almost hear the proverbial pin drop. Then another “whoo-whoo” pierced the silence, this time a lot closer to the bathroom window than the first time. I jumped out of the bath and cautiously peeped out of the window to see if I could see this new visitor.
I immediately saw him where he sat on top of the power pole that supplies our house with electricity. He was magnificent, ear tufts standing upright, large yellow eyes staring straight at me. I immediately ducked behind the curtain to prevent him from seeing me, but now, years later, I know that you cannot hide from an owl. Their senses are so keen that they can pick up the slightest movement or noise, even hearing you breathe or your heart beat at a distance of 10 meters or more.
I quickly dried myself and put some clothes on and went running to the kitchen to tell my wife, Ellie, and youngest daughter, Soné, about our new visitor. By now the owl has moved towards the front of the house, sitting on a telephone pole, hooting to tell the world that this was now his territory. We cautiously peeped through the window from behind the curtain, so as not to scare him away, but he immediately saw us and took off into the dark of the night, just to return a few minutes later. For the rest of the evening we could hear him hoot all around the house.
The second evening he returned and we were ecstatic about our new owl. Life however had to go on and, though we were afraid that we might scare him away, we had to go outside to carry on with our normal evening chores.
Much to our surprise the owl actually began following us, especially my youngest daughter, when she went outside to check up on the donkeys and horses. We soon realized that this owl was not completely wild and was most probably hungry and could not fend for himself.
The third evening I was on my way back home with still about 150 km to go when my daughter called me on my cell. She was so excited that she could barely speak; “Daddy, daddy, mum gave me a piece of raw meat and said that I must go and put it on the pole outside to see if the owl would not come and eat it and then when I went outside with the meat, he came and sat on my arm and grabbed the piece of meat and swallowed the whole piece, bone and all”.
Deep in my heart I envied her, almost feeling jealous, that she was so privileged to have such an experience. The remaining 150 km felt like 1500 km to me as I could barely wait to get home, hoping that the owl would still be there and maybe take some food from me as well. Unfortunately for me he however took off into the night after he finished eating the piece of meat that my daughter gave him and I had to be content with waiting until the next evening, hoping that he would return.
The next evening we all waited eagerly for the owl to show up so that we could feed it again. “Murphy’s Law” – He did not return that night or the next. The third night he however showed up again and sat hooting on one of the telephone poles. My daughter again took a piece of raw meat, chicken this time, and went outside to hopefully entice him to come and sit on her outstretched arm again, but no luck. After about half an hour of trying to get him to come and take the piece of chicken, we gave up and I told her to put the chicken on one of the fence poles. It wasn’t very long before he flew down from the pole and very cautiously approached the piece of chicken, eventually grabbing hold of it in his huge talons and then graciously flying away with it in the dark to go and eat it where nobody could see him.
The owl now returned regularly every evening, timid at first, but getting more at ease with our presence as the days went by. Though he was scared of us at first, it soon became evident that he was raised by humans and unfortunately imprinted and did not think of himself as an owl, but as a human being. It became clear to me that he had no idea what his natural food was and that he was not capable of fending for himself as he was never taught how to hunt. His timidity in the beginning could most probably be explained by a bad experience with humans after he escaped or was set free. Not knowing how to hunt for himself, his hunger must have driven him to populated areas in search of food. Unfortunately a lot of people here in South Africa are still very superstitious about owls and will scare them away, throwing stones and sticks at them, even sometimes killing them if they come to close to their homes, especially when they begin hooting.
As a young boy I always dreamt of having a raptor as a pet and of course an owl was on top of the list because of the mystique that surrounds them, but I could never get it over my heart to take a wild and free animal and imprison it, keeping it in a cage or aviary, watching it slowly fading away, longing for the life that it was meant to have. But this owl was different. He came to us, looking for help, not able to fend for himself. I immediately realised that this owl was a God sent, a childhood dream come true. But I also realised that with the owl came a huge responsibility. I would have to teach him what his natural food was and how to hunt for it so that he could fend for himself and have the life that he was meant to have. Little did I know at that stage to what extent this owl would change my life and that of my family?
THE CARING OWL: CHAPTER 2:- HUNTING LESSONS
“Uiltjie” was now coming in regularly every night to beg for food. He had no idea that we were actually trying to get some sleep at night and sometimes showed up at ridiculous hours, sitting and hooting on the porch in front of my bedroom. I always got up, even though I hated it, and fed him, because I was afraid that he might go away in search of food somewhere else, never to return again. If I took a bit long to bring his steak, he would sometimes become impatient and even enter the house through an open window or patio door, sitting on the highest object in the room, hooting to let me know that he was hungry.
At that stage I did not know where “Uiltjie” roosted during the day so I decided that every owl needs a nest and that “Uiltjie” was no exception to the rule, so I constructed a simple nest box and decided to erect it in one of the fig trees in the garden, where “Uiltjie” normally sat hooting at night time. While I was busy constructing the nest box, I began wondering how I would get him to enter the box and accept it, but apparently that was no problem. After I finished the box, I put some of my tools in it and carried it to the fig tree where I wanted to erect it. It was early on a Saturday morning and “Uiltjie” was still hanging around after I have fed him. He was closely watching me as I approached the tree with the nest box under my arm and all of a sudden came flying towards me. Much to my surprise he landed on the open side of the nest box and unceremoniously jumped into the box, clucking like a hen with chicks. I was so surprised that I did not know what to do.
Now, instead of battling to get him to enter the nest box, I actually had a problem of getting him out so that I could hoist it up into the tree and put it where it belongs. I did not want to chase him out, because then he might not want to get in again, so I decided to just put the box down underneath the tree and to see what happens. “Uiltjie” scrubbed and clucked in the nest box for almost two hours before he eventually got out and left for his daytime roosting spot, which I later on discovered to be down at the dam in a big thorn tree. I immediately took the opportunity to hoist the box up into the tree and fastened it to one of the big branches where it still is, up until today. “Uiltjie” never roosted in the nest box, but it became his favourite spot.
Every time that he saw me close to the tree he would fly towards the box, jump into it and try to get me to come to the box. I soon realised that he was a male and that he, being imprinted on humans, thought that I was his female and wanted me to get into the nest and mate with him. It sounds funny, but that is unfortunately what happens to an owl that was raised by human beings. He will get totally confused and will suffer from something almost like an identity crisis. And this, as you would see as the story develops, would become my major problem in rehabilitating “Uiltjie”
Once I knew that “Uiltjie” has claimed and accepted our farm as his territory, the task of properly rehabilitating him began. Although the steak and chicken that I fed him seemed to keep him alive and in a good condition, I knew that an owl was not meant to live on raw meat only. The digestive system of owls is specially adapted and they need to digest stuff like the fur and feathers of rodents and birds in order for their system to function properly and to keep the owl healthy. Although an owl can survive on the wrong food and even look quite healthy, it will in the long run suffer from things like bristle bones, feathers not developing properly and various other defects. I am not a veterinarian or a biologist and will not attempt to go to deep into this. (If you are interested to learn more about the digestive system or anatomy of owls I recommend that you read more about it in “The Owl Pages”). What I knew for certain at that stage was that I would have to teach “Uiltjie” to eat the right food or else he would eventually suffer the consequences of his wrong diet.
So now I knew that I had to teach “Uiltjie” what his natural food (mice, rats and birds) was, and how to hunt for it, but that was easier said than done as my wife and daughters would never allow me to catch and kill, or even buy mice and birds to feed to him. (And to be quite honest, neither would I). So my problem was: “How and where do I get natural food for Uiltjie?” I began taking away dead rodents from our cats and picked up dead birds on the road and every time that “Uiltjie” came in for food, I would feed him only a few small pieces of steak and then present him with a dead mouse or bird that I have either picked up on the road or taken away from one of our cats. It did not take long before his instinct kicked in and soon he began accepting the rodents and birds readily.
Now that “Uiltjie” knew what his natural food was, the difficult task of teaching him how to hunt for it began. Instead of giving him the rodents or birds when he came begging for food, I began leaving them at strategic places like at his nest box, his favourite roosting spot and fence poles where I knew that he frequently perched. He soon learnt to find them, but still came in for his steak every evening and every morning, sitting on the porch, hooting until I would feed him.
I now had to teach “Uiltjie” how to hunt and catch his own rodents. Because of my wife and daughters I could not present him with live rodents and birds, so I had to find a way to teach him how to hunt live prey. I came onto the idea to tie dead mice to my fishing rod and began pulling them over the lawn underneath the fig tree where “Uiltjies” nest box were, whenever I saw him sitting there. I am not a trained rehabilitator or falconer and I guess most people would most probably find my methods a little crude and sometimes I think that even “Uiltjie” sat up there in the tree, laughing at this crazy old man, trolling dead mice over the lawn with his fishing rod, but it was not too long before I got my first “strike”. It was about the third day. “Uiltjie” sat in the tree, watching me trolling for “owls” with a “mouse” as bait, when he suddenly swooped down and landed on the mouse.
I immediately stopped pulling and put my fishing rod down on the lawn. Uiltjie was towering over his prey, flapping his wings and clutching it with his large talons. He immediately got hold of it by the head with his beak and twisted the head, so as if to snap the neck. I approached him cautiously, but for the first time he became almost aggressive, showing me that it was his prey and that I should keep my distance. “Uiltjie’s” natural instincts have kicked in. He gave his first step towards becoming a real owl.
I continued my hunting lessons for a couple of weeks, until I could see that “Uiltjie” now knew what to do. It was now time to force him to hunt for himself. I began feeding him less and less in the evenings until eventually I only fed him in the mornings, just to make sure that he at least went to sleep with something in his stomach. I still did not know whether my efforts was successful, but I could see that “Uiltjie” was eating less and less in the mornings and that he did not loose any condition, so I was pretty sure that he were managing to hunt successfully.
Great was my joy when one evening I heard “Uiltjie” hooting outside on the porch in front of my bedroom. This time he did not come begging for food, but had a huge rat dangling from his beak. When I approached him, he lay the rat down on the pillar and looked at me with almost a “smirk” on his face.
The breeding season for spotted eagle owls has begun and this was his offering to me. He has chosen me as his mate, most probably for life, but to be quite honest; at that stage I accepted his offering with mixed feelings. Yes, I was overwhelmed with joy and pride that he accepted me as his mate, but I also knew that this meant that “Uiltjie” was imprinted on me and would most probably never have a normal “Owl life” and would most probably never accept a female owl as his mate and never have the joy of raising his own little owlets in a natural way.
Most people won’t understand it, but a magnificent bird like “Uiltjie” was never meant to be a “pet”, but to hunt freely in the wild, mate with a female owl, have chicks, hunt to feed them and even die fighting to raise and protect his “real owl” family. He might not live as long as when in captivity, but that is what owls are born to do and what they have done for a couple of million years, most probably some of the most proficient hunters ever to roam the earth.
That night there on the porch I silently took an oath that I would make it my mission in life to try and find a suitable female for him, though I knew that my mission was most probably doomed to fail from the beginning. Now, almost six years later, I am still trying to get him to accept another female owl as his mate, but with no success so far. This doesn’t mean that I have not presented him with suitable females; no “Uiltjie” just had plans of his own. He did not only accept me as his partner, but also my wife and children. It became a regular sight to see him coming into the house with a mouse, a rat or sometimes even a snake, dangling from his beak, looking for the nearest “victim” to coax into accepting his offering.
“Uiltjie” was now part of our family. He would show up regularly at dusk and dawn to beg for his pudding (steak). Sometimes he would bring a mouse or rat and exchange it for the steak so as if to just show us that he can actually take care of himself. (I always accepted the rodent, but normally put it back on his perch when he was not looking and then he would come and steal it back later on.). If we went for a walk outside at night time, it normally wasn’t long before “Uiltjie” showed up. He would follow us, flying from fence pole to fence pole and tree top to tree top, hooting and swooping down to the ground sometimes, sitting there waiting for us to catch up with him. At first he was not too happy with the dogs and cats that accompanied us on our walks, but later on he sort of tolerated them, as long as they did not get to close to him.
“Uiltjie” could now fend for himself, but he was still confused about his identity. He did not know whether he was an owl or a human being, but the first step towards becoming a real owl was successful. It was a small step towards his rehabilitation, something that should have come naturally to him by observing his parents hunting, but that was denied him because of him being raised by humans. I was proud of “Uiltjie” and myself. We overcame our first obstacle on the long road towards making a real owl out of him.
THE CARING OWL: CHAPTER 3:- A FEMALE OWL
It did not take “Uiltjie” long to become a hunter “par excellence”, but though he could now fend for himself, he still came in every morning and every evening to beg for his steak, sometimes bringing some of the prey that he caught with him to show us that he can now take care of himself and of us.
I now knew that the majority of his diet consisted of the right food, so I did not mind feeding him a few small pieces of his favourite steak twice a day. The steak now was more like giving sweets to a child after he has eaten his food, almost like pudding. “Uiltjie” would sell his soul for these few pieces of steak, but sometimes I actually wondered whether it really were the steak, or was it because of the bonding that took place between the two of us when I fed him? But I knew that this was not the right thing to do if I wanted “Uiltjie” to become a real owl. It had to stop, however difficult it was going to be for both him and me.
I began calling reputable rehabilitators all over the country to find out exactly what I had to do to get him to become a real owl, to accept his own kind and to mate with a real female owl, but basically everybody told me exactly the same thing. “Uiltjie” was too heavily imprinted on human beings to ever become a real owl. Deep in my heart I always knew that these people were right, but I refused to accept it. If you can remember, I took an oath that night there on the porch when “Uiltjie” brought his first rodent to me, and I was not going to give up hope so easily.
I realised that “Uiltjie” would never find a mate in a natural way, as he was not looking for one. After all, he already had a mate, me. According to the way of the spotted eagle owl he was married to me, and as most of you know, they mate for life. So, if I ever wanted him to become a real owl, I could not sit and wait, hoping for a nice female owl to show up on the farm, as he would most probably chase her out of “our” territory the moment that she dared to show up. There was only one way of getting him interested in a female owl and that was to act as a matchmaker and set him up with a date with one or more pretty and willing females.
But where do I get a female Spotted Eagle Owl? Here in South Africa, like in most countries, it is illegal to keep an owl in captivity without the necessary permit. Up until now I did not need a permit for “Uiltjie” as I did not hold him captive. He was a free bird and I intended to keep it that way, but in order for me to set him up with a female, I would have to keep both of them captive for at least a couple of weeks so that they could get used to each other. I was prepared to take the chance of keeping them in captivity without a permit for a couple of weeks, but the problem was that no licensed rehabilitator would give me an owl without the necessary permits, and these permits are not exactly easy to get. My other problem was that I had to set “Uiltjie” up with a female within the next two or 3 weeks, while it was still the mating season, otherwise I would have to wait for another year, in which time he would become even more imprinted on me. Even if I did apply for a permit and it was granted to me, it would be too late by the time that the permit was issued. But I made a promise to “Uiltjie” and myself and I was not going to give up that easily. Again I began calling every rehabilitator in the country, but the answer remained the same. “As much as we would like to help you, we just cannot take the chance as we could lose our licence”. Although I was frustrated, I could not blame these people for not wanting to give me a female owl.
Just when I thought that I would never get a female owl for “Uiltjie”, I got hold of the telephone number of a lady who, not only were willing to help me, but who actually needed a suitable place to set some of her rehabilitated owls free. This was now the ideal opportunity and a way to do it legally. All I had to do was set up a hacking cage and she would provide me with two female owls and the necessary permission to keep them in captivity for a period of three months as part of her program to soft release them back into nature. I was in the seventh heaven. Not only did I manage to get hold of two female owls for “Uiltjie”, but I was now also playing a major role in preparing them for their release back into nature.
Everything happened very quickly now. It was almost like planning a wedding for one of my children. I quickly erected a temporary hacking cage on my porch, making it large enough to allow the owls to fly around and exercise their wings. I could not wait for the two females to arrive because I was going to prove everybody wrong. I was going to show them that it was possible to get an imprinted owl to become “natural” again.
But I actually forgot about “Murphy’s law” which basically states that something will go wrong when least expected. My daughter’s in-laws lived in the same city as Melaney, the “Owl Lady” and they volunteered to bring the owls down to me. Melaney took the owls to them the evening before they would come down and the next morning they were loaded onto the back seat of the car, each in their own little carrying cage, with strict instructions of what to do and what not. The air conditioner was preferably to be kept running to keep the temperature down and the radio were to be turned down so as not to damage their very sensitive hearing. Seven hours and six hundred and fifty kilometres later they arrived on the farm. And this is when “Murphy’s law” kicked in. Up until this point everything went like clockwork, except maybe for a few very smelly “poops” in the back of the car.
I took the first cage out of the car and my daughter’s father-in-law took the second cage. Nobody noticed that the latch on this second cage was damaged and that the door of the cage was no longer locked. As soon as he took the cage out of the car, it tilted and the door flew right open. I immediately noticed it, but before we could do anything, the owl flew out of the cage and disappeared into the thick bush about five hundred meters from the house. I marked the spot in my mind and after I put the remaining owl in the hacking cage we all went to look for the escaped owl. But I can tell you now that, if an owl does not want to be found, you won’t find it. They are masters at the art of camouflage and blend in so well with their natural surroundings that, unless they make a noise or move when you are looking directly at them, you won’t see them, even if you are standing next to them. After a few hours of searching we gave up hope and returned home. All that I could do now was to capture “Uiltjie” and put him into the cage together with the other female owl, because I was afraid that if I left him outside, that he would immediately chase the escaped female out of his territory that evening, maybe even injuring or killing her. If he was out of the equation, I could at least put some food out for her and hope that she would accept it and get used to being free again, learning how to fend for herself. It fortunately was a wild owl, so she should know how to hunt, but just needed a little bit of support to find her feet again.
As I returned home, I found “Uiltjie” clinging to the side of the hacking cage. He immediately became aware of the presence of the female in the cage and came to investigate. Up until now I always refrained from handling him, however tempting it was, but now I had to catch him. The catching part turned out to be quite easy, but he did not like it very much, making screaming sounds, almost like a baby, to show his disgust, even snapping at me with his beak. I did not know how he would react towards the female when I put him into the cage, but fortunately it was weekend and I could keep a close watch on them.
At first they snapped and hissed a bit at each other, but soon they seemed to calm down and it seemed as if they accepted each other’s presence. “Uiltjie” was not very happy with the new arrival, but at least he did not fight with her. I think he was angrier with me for catching him and putting him in a cage than what he was worried about the female owl. I suppose the cage brought back some old memories from his childhood when he was held in captivity.
I regularly put out some food for the escaped owl close to where she landed when she escaped and for the first few days, the food disappeared. After a week the food remained intact and I presume that she was able to fend for herself and decided to leave for another hunting area.
After a few days, it seemed as if “Uiltjie” has accepted the female owl. They were roosting next to each other on a branch that I put in the cage and it even looked as if the female owl was accepting him as a probable mate. But now “Uiltjie” was becoming restless and agitated with being held captive. He began trying to get out of the hacking cage and even stopped eating. After a month in captivity, his efforts to escape from the cage became so intense, that I became worried that he might injure himself. I could not take it anymore to see him clinging to the side of the cage, flying up and down, trying to find an opening to get out. It was heartbreaking to see how this magnificent bird was longing to be free, to be outside, to go hunting and just do what a free owl normally does.
I was not prepared to keep him locked up anymore and decided to open them up. If he did not want to accept her in his territory then it was not meant for him to have a female owl as a mate. I waited until the next Saturday morning and then opened up the one side of the cage. “Uiltjie” immediately flew out and went straight to his nesting box in the fig tree. The female owl however remained in the cage, not at all worried to go out. She was in captivity for so long that she did not realise that she was now free to go. About an hour before dusk, she cautiously ventured outside, not sure if she could believe that she was now free. After sitting on top of the cage for about half an hour she took off into the air.
I was not prepared for what happened next. In the cage it seemed as if “Uiltjie” accepted her, but as soon as she was airborne, he noticed it and immediately took off from where he was sitting in the fig tree. He circled her in the air, climbing about ten meters higher than what she was and then all of a sudden dived down towards her, talons outstretched. His attack was so fierce that the poor female stood no chance. He hit her with such force that she tumbled down to the ground, lying there in a heap, not able to get up again. I was so stunned that at first I did not know what to do. She was lying in a heap on the grass, about fifty meters from the house, not able to move. I ran towards her and picked her up. Her one talon grasped hold of my hand, pushing two of the inch long nails into my flesh. The pain was excruciating, but I was so worried about the owl that I almost did not notice it. I ran to the house to examine the owl to determine how serious her injuries were. All the time “Uiltjie” was still circling around in the air above us, following me to the house, looking for another chance to attack her.
Once in the house I had to call my daughter, Soné, to come and help me to free my hand from the owl’s talons. We battled for almost ten minutes to open up her claw which was cramped close in shock, pushing the nails deeper and deeper into my flesh until I could feel them touching the bones in my hand, needless to say that the pain was almost unbearable. At that stage I was however more worried about the owl than my hand.
Once my hand was free, I could examine the owl. I could find no physical injuries and it looked like the poor bird was just stunned by the sheer force of the attack. I closed up the open hacking cage and put the poor bird back into it on a towel that I put underneath an infrared light. She was completely stunned by the shock of the attack and just lay under the light the whole night. The next morning she however got up and three days later she was completely recovered. I never for one moment thought that “Uiltjie” would attack a female owl with such brute force, to be quite honest, until that day I did not realise how fierce their attacks on each other could be. “Uiltjie” was always gentle with us, never harmed any of our animals, but his own kind he attacked relentlessly and would most probably even have killed her if I did not intervene. I saw a side of “Uiltjie” that day that I did not know existed, the real and true nature of an owl defending his territory against an intruder.
It was now clear to me that “Uiltjie” would never accept a wild adult female as his mate. I also realised that it would be impossible for me to release the female here on the farm, so I now had to make some other arrangements for her release. Fortunately I managed to get into contact with the veterinarian of the well known private game reserve “Shamwari” who not only had a lot of experience with raptors, but who agreed to take her in and prepare her for release on their property. She was released successfully a few weeks later. I now understood why people say that once an owl like “Uiltjie” is imprinted on a human being, that it is basically impossible to get him to accept his own kind. For the time being I had to admit failure, because, although “Uiltjie” was a free bird and could fend for himself, to my mind an animal or bird is only truly and successfully rehabilitated once it accepts its own kind and mates and breeds in nature. All rehabilitators told me to accept this fact and just enjoy the special relationship that I had with “Uiltjie”, after all it’s not many people that have the privilege of having an owl that is free, but yet chooses to come back to you out of his own free will. But deep in my heart I knew that I would never give up on properly rehabilitating “Uiltjie”, even if it took me a couple of years. This was a temporary setback, but I was sure that there must be a way to get him to take a real owl as a mate and I would try until I succeeded. By now the breeding season for Spotted Eagle Owls was over and I had almost a year before the next season started, to figure out another way to get him to accept a female owl.
After this incident, “Uiltjie” acted as if nothing happened. He carried on with his routine of coming in for steak in the mornings and at dusk, just before he goes hunting. In fact the bond between the two of us became stronger and stronger and he became like a child to me and my family, he became part of the family.
THE CARING OWL: CHAPTER 4:- MISSING
When my father-in-law retired he came to live with us on the farm. He was a very keen birder and spent most of his time feeding and watching them in the garden. About 3 years before “Uiltjie” showed up, he fell and injured his legs. Since then he was never able to walk again, why we do not know until today, as there were no physical damage to his legs. The doctors suspected that his brain formed a kind of a mental block, preventing him from using them again. A year later his one foot was showing signs of gangrene, and later on, first his left leg and then his right leg, had to be amputated to stop the gangrene from spreading further into his body and eventually killing him.
This was a very difficult phase in our lives, especially for my wife, but the woman that she is, she refused to put him into an old age home or caring facility and personally took care of him until his death. This was actually not surprising, because that is what she has basically done her whole life. I have known her since she was a young girl and cannot remember a single time in her life that she was not busy taking care of something or someone. For as far back as I can remember there was always a small bird that has fallen out of his nest, an abandoned or neglected cat or dog or something that she had to take care of or nurse back to health. She took care of her mother until the end when she had cancer and was doing the same now for her father. During this time there was a period of a few months when he refused to eat. She spent hours, sitting at his bed, feeding him like a baby, until he got better and began eating himself again, never giving up on him. This is how she is with animals as well. She will nurse them back to health from basically being almost dead. I always joke and tell people that if I have a barbecue, I have to watch my meat very carefully; otherwise she would get hold of it and nurse it back to health again.
Now that my father-in-law could not walk anymore, his favourite pastime was to sit in his room and watch the birds through the window. We put up a feeder on the lawn in front of his window and my wife began feeding the birds regularly. After “Uiltjie” showed up on the farm, it became a regular thing to push him in his wheelchair to the tree where “Uiltjie” was roosting and he would then sit there, sometimes for hours, watching him and the other birds. And then one afternoon he passed away in his sleep while taking his afternoon nap. We buried him in his hometown about 400 km from Grahamstown. Now I know that you will say: “But what does this have to do with your owl story?”, but please bear with me and read further and you will see.
We were gone for two days. My eldest daughter and her husband remained behind to look after the animals, because if you have so many as we do, there must always be somebody to look after them and feed them. “Uiltjie” came in that first evening and she fed him his normal piece of steak, as we have done for the past couple of months, and then he took off into the night to go and hunt for rodents as he usually does. The next morning he did not show up for his steak, but she was not worried too much, because it happened previously that, when he had a very successful night, he was not hungry and would go straight to his roosting spot. We returned home at about five ’o clock that afternoon. After I off-loaded our stuff I began feeding all the animals that I was responsible for and then went to my work room and called “Uiltjie” to come and fetch his steak like I have done for the past couple of months. He did not show up or answer at all, but I was still not worried too much, because I thought that he maybe was not hungry and that he would show up later. The funeral and the long distance that we drove took its toll and I went to bed round about 11 pm. There was still no sign of “Uiltjie”, but there was nothing that I could do, accept hope that he would show up the next morning.
I did not sleep well that night. It is funny how the lack of a familiar sound can actually keep you awake. Normally “Uiltjie” would come back to the house a couple of times during the night, sitting on top of the roof, on the porch or in a tree, hooting to let his family know that he was around, that his hunting trip was successful, but that night there was no “Uiltjie” hooting, not even the familiar chattering of the two forked tailed drongo’s to announce “Uiltjie’s” return from wherever he was hunting. The night was silent, too silent to sleep. I woke up at four ‘o clock that morning, feeling as if I never went to bed, but not able to sleep anymore. The other people were still sleeping, so I could not call “Uiltjie” from the porch in fear that I might wake up everybody. I dressed myself and went outside to look for him. His favourite hunting ground was down in the valley at the borehole pump and I walked the five or six hundred meters to the pump, calling him as soon as I was far enough from the house so as not to wake the other people, but “Uiltjie” did not answer, everything was quiet and deep in my heart I knew that something must have happened to him, that he was injured or dead. It was not long before my wife joined me in my search. She also could not sleep and when she heard me hooting down in the valley, her first thought was that it was “Uiltjie” that came back and that I got up to go and find him. The two of us looked and called for “Uiltjie” all over the farm until dawn broke. By now our feet were all wet and freezing because of the frost on the grass. We were cold and worried. “Uiltjie” did not answer. His familiar call did not echo through the cold morning air as usual. The two forked tailed drongo’s joined us, mistaking our hooting for that of “Uiltjie’s”. But even they could not find him. Uiltjie was nowhere to be found. It was like one of our children has gone missing.
The whole day at work I could not concentrate on what I was doing. I knocked off early that afternoon to go and search for him, hoping to find him roosting at his favourite spot, but he was not there. I fine combed the whole farm and adjacent commonage and even patrolled the nearby main road to see if he was not perhaps hit by a vehicle and lying injured or dead next to the road. I even patrolled the overhead power line to see if he was not maybe electrocuted, but there was no sign of him. That night I put food out for him as usual and got up several times during the night to call him, now not even caring that I might wake up the other people, because I knew that they were also worried about him and would not mind.
“UIltjie was now missing for two days and I knew that something must have happened to him. I did not know whether he was injured or dead, or whether he maybe just left the farm to find a better place. Not knowing what happened to him was actually worse than knowing that he was dead. If he was dead and I knew it, it would be heart breaking, but at least I would know what happened to him, but now, for all I knew, he might be lying injured somewhere, hungry and cold and in pain.
I am not a very gullible person, and believe me when I say that I am the last person to believe in ghosts and magic and stuff like that, but I would be lying if I told you that it did not cross my mind that maybe the owl came to the farm because he knew that my father-in-law was going to die and that he was there to come and fetch him and now that his work was done, he left the farm. I can assure you that I never believed, or will ever believe that something like that could ever be true, but it just shows you how the human mind works. The funny thing is that when I told my wife about it that evening, she admitted that the same thought had crossed her mind as well. (And here I am today, basically devoting my life to convince the local black people that there is no truth in their superstition that owls are harbingers of death and doom.)
For seven days we kept on searching for “Uiltjie”, but in vain. I began accepting that he was dead and that he would never return and that I would never hear his familiar hooting again. I always knew that I loved him, but I never thought that I would miss him that much and that I would miss being woken up at two o’ clock in the morning by a hungry owl. All of a sudden my life seemed empty. It was as if I have lost an only child. I had to accept that I would never see “Uiltjie” again.
THE CARING OWL: CHAPTER 5:- INJURED
It has now been a week since “Uiltjie” disappeared. We literally spent all our free time every day to search for him, but with no luck. There is not a place on the farm where we did not search for him. At night I put out food for him and visited his regular hunting sites, calling him, but in vain. “Uiltjie” did not answer. His familiar “Hu-Hoo” did not echo through the valley any more like so many nights before. “Uiltjie was gone and I had to accept it. It seemed as if even the Forked Tailed Drongo’s accepted that he was gone. They still accompanied me on my walks like they always did, but their familiar chattering was now also quiet as there was no owl to stir them up or scare them anymore. Even our thirteen dogs seemed to be quieter than usual at night, with nobody to wake them up anymore in the early morning hours.
On the morning of the eighth day I stopped at the garden gate on my way to work. Just as I was busy getting out of my truck to open the gate, I saw “Uiltjie” fluttering along the ground, making his way towards the truck. I could immediately see that there was something seriously wrong with him and quickly ran to pick him up. I rushed him inside and examined him, but could find no physical signs of injury, but there was no question that he was badly injured, because he could not even get up. His right leg was dangling useless from his body and I could see that he was in a lot of pain. “Uiltjie” did not look very good and I feared that he might not make it. By now my wife and daughter also came to see what was going on and we decided to take him to the vet as there was nothing that we could actually do for him. We did not know whether his leg was broken and if he was suffering from internal injuries or what. I wrapped him in a warm baby blanket and we immediately rushed him to the local vet, praying all the way that he would make it. It felt like an eternity before we reached the vet.
By now “Uiltjie” was in a semi-comatose state. The vet immediately examined him and took some X-rays of his leg and back. There were some hairline fractures in his spinal cord, but the leg was not broken. It however seemed as if all the muscles and ligaments of the right leg were severely injured. The vet told us that due to the extent of his injuries, his chances of survival was basically less than zero and that even if he survived, that he would never be able to live a normal life again and that the humane thing to do would be to put him down.
Now imagine just for one moment that a doctor tells you that your son’s leg and spinal cord is damaged to such an extent that he would never be able to live a normal life again and that you must rather end his miserable life. Well, that is how we felt about “Uiltjie” as he was like a child to us. The death sentence was now pronounced over him, but we refused to accept it. We told the vet that we would rather take him home and try our best to pull him through and rather let nature take its own course. If he was destined to die, it would be in a natural way and with some dignity and at home with the people that he loved. He told us that the best that we could do for him, if that was our decision, was to keep him as still and warm as possible and to feed him as much healthy food as we could and maybe, just maybe, he would live, but the chance of him flying and hunting again was basically less than zero.
The first few days “Uiltjie” fought for his life. The one fortunate thing about him being injured so badly was that he could not really move, so it was fairly easy to keep him still. As he was used to coming into my workroom/study, I kept him there. I arranged a couple of pillows in such a way that his injured leg was comfortable and he was quite content with being pampered like this.
Because of his spinal injury he had great difficulty in eating and I had to cut his food into tiny pieces and hand feed him every couple of hours. Another problem arose. Because of the extent of his injuries he had great difficulty in relieving himself, so he got constipated. Now this is something that rarely happens to an owl and nobody seemed to know what to do. Eventually, out of desperation, we put him into a bowl of lukewarm water and after holding him partially submerged for about half an hour, his muscles seemed to begin to relax and then, much to our joy, he was able to relieve himself in the bowl of water. (Never in my life would I have imagined myself telling somebody that I would find joy in an owl relieving himself, but here I am doing just that).
The first few days I sometimes wondered if we shouldn’t rather have listened to the vet and relieved “Uiltjie from his misery. At times I could actually see the pain in his eyes, his whole body quivering when he tried moving into a more comfortable position, making almost baby like sounds when he saw me to tell me that he was in pain. I could actually empathize with him because a couple of years ago I injured my back severely in a car accident so I knew what he was going through. Accept for injecting him with antibiotics once a day, there was not much that I could do for him, accept making him as comfortable as possible and feeding him with healthy food.
The first few nights I wrapped “Uiltjie” up in a warm and soft baby blanket and put him in bed next to me to make it easier to force feed him during the night, something which I had to do every two hours for the first week to keep him from dehydrating and also to prevent him from getting constipated again. During this time I did not get much sleep, but “Uiltjie” was like a child to me and there was nothing that I would not do to save his life. I learned to sleep with him in my arms, cuddling him like a baby, waking up at every sound or movement that he made. By the end of that first week I was so exhausted that I felt like a zombie. While I was at work during the day, my wife took care of “Uiltjie”, feeding him and cleaning him when necessary.
During that first week it was touch and go. Sometimes it actually looked as if he was not going to make it, but “Uiltjie” proved to be a fighter. On the morning of the seventh day he began lifting up his head and began taking interest in what was going on in the room. He began greeting me with a soft, almost “purring” sound, every time that I brought him his food and two days later began taking it from my hand, still battling to swallow it, but at least it was a good sign to know that he was now actually hungry. He still could not move around, but at least it looked as if he was going to make it. The first step towards his recovery was successful.
During the next two weeks “Uiltjie’s” condition improved drastically and by the end of the third week after he was injured, he was able to begin to sit on his one leg, if I helped him to get up and balanced him between two cushions. He was still in a lot of pain and it was still too early to tell whether he would be able to walk and fly again, but at least his life was not in danger any more. The first five or so weeks after he was injured, “Uiltjie” was totally dependent on me for doing basically everything for him. He was like an invalid. I had to feed him, help him to sit upright and even help him when nature called and clean him up afterwards to prevent him from clogging up. We had to trim a lot of his feathers to make it easier to clean him, because he could not help himself.
During this time, the special bond that there was between me and “Uiltjie” before he got injured grew into something even more special. We became part of each other. I began to understand him and we began communicating, not in the way that humans communicate, but showing our feelings, trusting each other and showing that love and trust to each other. I think that “Uiltjie” really saw me as his mate, as his wife, and now, after years of studying him and other Spotted Eagle Owls, I know what affectionate creatures they really are and that they will care for their partners and family in the same way that I was taking care of him then. Most people say that owls are not actually very bright and intelligent and that it is very difficult to teach them tricks, but during this time I learned how intelligent they actually are. “Uiltjie” knew that he was injured and he knew that he was dependent on me and he was grateful towards me for helping him. One could actually see the gratitude in his large yellow eyes. “Uiltjie” put his life in my hands and I was humbled by the complete trust that this bird had in me.
One morning, somewhere in the sixth week, I got up and found “Uiltjie’s” basket empty. “Uiltjie” was lying on top of the sofa, one wing outstretched as though he was on holiday and bathing in the sun. He greeted me with a feeble “Hoo Hoo” as if to say: “Here I am, don’t worry”. Somehow he managed to get out of the basket and crawled up onto the headrest of the sofa. This was the first time since he was injured that he actually managed to move himself from one place to another and from then on the sofa became his favourite spot. I arranged two cushions for him in such a way that he was comfortable and for the next couple of weeks he spent most of his time there.
“Uiltjie” loved it when I was at home, working on my computer. Every now and then I would talk to him and then he would answer me back, almost as if we were really having a conversation. If I got up he would watch my every movement and you could actually see the disappointment on his face when I had to leave the room for some reason or the other. Now that he was injured he changed his normal habits. Instead of being nocturnal, he began sleeping at night time and was awake during most part of the day. This led me to believe that Spotted Eagle Owls are not actually nocturnal because they want to be, but maybe just because they can hunt more effectively in the dark. It is also most probably because the prey that they hunt is more active during night time, making use of the cover of the darkness to evade their predators. I have actually later on learnt that Spotted Eagle Owls do a lot of hunting in the hour just before sundown.Up until today we do not know how “Uiltjie” got injured or how he managed to get home in the condition that he was in. We suspect that he got injured the first night after he disappeared and that it then took him seven days to get back to the farm, maybe covering a short distance every night until he managed to get back. In his condition this was nothing short of a miracle. Spotted Eagle Owls can sometimes hunt as far as two to three kilometres, as the crow flies, from their nest, and injured as he was, it must have taken all his effort to get back home to the farm and the people that he loved and that he knew would take care of him. “Uiltjie” was alive and though I did not know at that stage whether he would ever be able to walk or fly again, I was just glad that he was back again.
THE CARING OWL: CHAPTER 6:- THE ACCIDENT
In this chapter I will deviate a little bit from my owl story to tell you about the accident in which I injured my back years ago, to show you why I could actually empathize with “Uiltjie” and understand the pain and the suffering that he went through.
The accident occurred in 1985 and changed my life forever. I was young, inexperienced and just began my own business as an electrical contractor. At that stage I had no medical aid or any other insurance to cover myself, something that I regret until today. I was doing some electrical work for my brother-in–law on his farm and had to go and fetch a drum of underground cable in Bloemfontein. As the drum weighed more than a ton, he told me to take his Toyota Land Cruiser, which was a one-and-a–half ton truck instead of a one tonner like mine.
About 15 km out of town, just as I crossed a bridge over a small stream, I suddenly lost control of the truck. Everything happened so quickly that, until today, I cannot remember exactly what happened. All that I can remember is that it felt as if there was something wrong with the steering mechanism. The truck swerved to the side of the road and there was nothing that I could do to control it. It left the road and overturned. All of this happened in a split-second.
The next thing I knew I found myself lying next to the overturned truck on the passenger side. I was lying on my back in the middle of the road and the pain was excruciating. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Sam, my worker that was in the truck with me, lying about five meters away from the truck, in the middle of the road. He was unconscious but I could see that he was still breathing.
Blood was flowing out of my nose and mouth and I could not utter a sound, most probably because of the pain and shock. In those years the trucks in South Africa had no safety belts and we most probably were thrown through the windscreen as I was covered with shattered pieces of glass, even having a few pieces in my mouth.
We were lying in a blind spot on the road and I could hear a big truck approaching. The first thing that went through my mind was that the truck was going to run over Sam, who was lying in the middle of the road. Just then I heard someone talking. I tried to yell at him to stop the truck, but could not utter a sound. I could not move or even lift up my hand and was terrified.
Fortunately the truck stopped and then I felt someone touching me and asking me if I was OK. I tried to answer, but I still could not talk. He told me to lie still and that help was on its way. There were now several people on the scene and I could hear them talking. At some stage I heard someone saying that it was not worth calling the ambulance as it did not look as if we were going to make it. I can still clearly remember wanting to shout at them, telling them that I was still alive and that they must call the ambulance, but I still could not utter a sound, let alone shout to them, and I was terrified.
Then a soft voice spoke to me. He must have realised that I could not speak or move and asked me to blink my eyes if I could understand him. I managed to blink and he told me that it looked as if I injured my back and as if I had internal injuries as well, but that I must hold on, because the ambulance was on its way. Relieve that help was on its way passed through me. I wanted to thank him, but could not. Instead I blinked my eyes a couple of times and hoped that he would understand how grateful I was.
It felt like an eternity before the ambulance arrived. The driver came to me and told me that they were going to lift me onto a stretcher. Through the haze of pain I recognised him as an old colleague of mine. We used to work together at the municipality when I was still an apprentice electrician. In those years municipal workers manned the ambulance. They had no medical training whatsoever, but did a great job, without any extra payment, whenever it was necessary. Curtis Nel, my old colleague and now driver of the ambulance, was actually the water works superintendant, a plumber by trade and had no medical training or experience of any kind, but at that stage he seemed like an angel from heaven. I knew that, what he maybe lacked in medical training and experience, was compensated for by his friendship and devotion towards helping people. At that stage his presence was more comforting to me than what would have been the presence of a qualified surgeon. I knew that he would not leave me there to die.
Before they lifted me onto the stretcher they warned me that it was going to hurt, but that there was nothing that they could do about it as there were nobody that was qualified to administer an anaesthetic or painkiller and I just had to mentally prepare myself for it. I was never a “sissy” and I always had a very high tolerance for pain, but nothing could prepare me for the pain that I experienced when they lifted me onto that stretcher. I almost passed out. Maybe I did for a few seconds or so, because the next thing I knew, I was inside the ambulance. It was a tarmac road, but it felt as if we were driving through the veldt. Every hump or bump in the road felt like going through a deep donga. The pain was unbearable. I tried to tell them to drive slower, but still could not utter a sound. All that I could think of was the unbearable pain that I was experiencing and that was getting worse by the second.
It felt like an eternity before we reached the hospital. I was immediately taken to the emergency room where they injected me with morphine and then began cleaning me up. As the morphine began to take effect I could slowly feel the pain fading away. It was still there, but at least it was now bearable. The doctor on hospital duty arrived and examined me thoroughly. They immediately pushed me to the X-ray room and took some X-rays of my back and chest.
In those days the medical facilities in the rural towns were, to say the least, primitive. The X-ray machine was something that most probably dated from before Noah’s Ark and the hospital doctor also had no experience in reading the X-rays. They pushed me out of the X-ray room into a private room. By now I could speak again. In the passage, on my way to the private room, I was met by my wife and two small children. She was in tears. I don’t know who, but somebody called her and told her that I was involved in a nasty accident and that she had to expect the worst. I could see the relief in her eyes when she saw me. By now I was all cleaned up and actually did not look to bad. I had a few bad bruises, but fortunately no open wounds.
Once the doctor examined the X-rays he told us that he could find nothing wrong with me and that it was probably just some torn ligaments etc. As far as he could tell from the X-rays there were nothing broken. I was never one for a hospital and asked him to discharge me. I tried, with the help of my wife and a nurse, to get up onto my feet, but could not walk at all. Although I was still under heavy sedation, the pain was unbearable, but I said nothing because I was worried that they might keep me in hospital. I somehow managed to make it to my wife’s car, hanging between her and a nurse. It was a nightmare getting into the car, but I was determined to go home, also partially because I had little or no faith in the hospital doctor’s competency. I was sure that my wife could take better care of me at home than what they would do in the hospital.
At home I went straight to bed just to find out that it was almost impossible to lie down because of the pain. I ended up making myself comfortable between a stack of pillows on our lounge suite. The effect of the morphine was now rapidly wearing off and the pain was beginning to become almost unbearable again. That night was probably one of the longest and most painful that I have ever experienced. It felt as if daylight would never come.
The following morning I called our house doctor. He was one of the best doctors that I have ever known and was highly regarded, even by the best specialists. At first he told me that, ethically, he could not intervene in my case and that I had to go back to the hospital doctor. I however convinced him to take a look at my X-rays. After studying them closely he told me that there were definitely signs of my spinal cord being damaged and pushed out of position and that I immediately had to go to see a specialist and go for further X-rays.
I managed to get an appointment with one of the leading orthopaedists in Port Elizabeth and two days later went down to see him. He immediately sent me for further X-rays and after examining them, told me that I had compression fractures in T12 and L1 and that my spinal cord was also pushed about six to seven millimetres out of position. He told me that I was very, very fortunate that I was not completely paralysed and that the slightest movement of my spinal cord could severe it and leave me paralysed for the rest of my life. Unfortunately the fractures were of such a nature that it would not help to operate and he told me that I would have to get used to living with it for the rest of my life. My condition should improve with time, but I had to accept that I would be half a man for the rest of my life, that I would never be able to participate in any physical activities again because it was too dangerous. I would most probably not be able to walk and run properly again and must just be grateful for not being a complete invalid. He told me that he could declare me medically unfit for work, but I had my own business and had no medical aid or other insurance policies, so there was no use in doing so.
The first few weeks after the accident is a time in my life that I would rather like to forget. I experienced pain every minute of the day. My wife could not even sleep on the same bed as me as every movement that she made caused me pain. It felt like someone was crushing my spinal cord. I could handle the pain, but the fact that I could barely help myself was something that I had to get used to. I could not walk properly, but shuffled along like an old man and could barely lift a glass or a cup to my mouth. I was always a very active person, someone that loved the outdoor life. My worst fear was that I would never be able to go fishing again, to do a simple thing like throwing a pebble into the water. Every movement that I made was an effort and a very painful one to say the least. But just like “Uiltjie” I wanted to live. I refused to accept that I would never be able to do the things that I loved most and told myself that the doctors don’t always know everything and that I will walk and run again. I just had to believe, prey and be positive.
A couple of months passed and I gradually improved, day by day, step by step, until I could walk properly again, even being able to run short distances. I realised that I would never be the same person that I used to be, but at least I could help myself. I drastically improved and a few years later, despite what the doctors told me, I was even able to participate in non-contact sport again and even played badminton for our town’s first team. I could go fishing again and I could throw that pebble into the water, something simple, but something that I thought I would never be able to do again. I was now able to work and to live an almost normal life, except for the fact that I always have to be very careful of what I do and how I do it. The pain was still there and would always be, sometimes not so bad, just enough to remind me that I must be careful of what I do and how I do it, but some days it would be so bad that it become almost unbearable, keeping me awake at night, but then I think of how lucky I am that I can still walk and do things and that gives me the strength to handle the pain. Today I can do almost anything that a normal man can do. I however just have to accept that what I do today, will most probably make me suffer tomorrow.
Today I still think of that day that I was lying there in the middle of the road, not able to utter a sound and I still hear them talking to one another, saying that it was not worth calling the ambulance as we would not make it. I can still remember how I tried to tell them that I was alive and that I wanted to live, that I was not ready to die yet. I remember the fear and the excruciating pain, but then I also remember that they did help me. They did this because I was a human being and because human beings deserve to be helped. That is what the human race normally does and I am thankful for that.
And that is why I could not give up on “Uiltjie” when he was injured, why I cannot give up on any living being, whether it is a human, an animal, bird, mouse or whatever. Do we not all share the same creator? What makes an owl, or any other animal for that matter, less important than a human being? Why don’t animals deserve to be given the same chance to recover, to be taken care of and to live?
When “Uiltjie” was injured I could see myself in him. I could see the pain in his eyes, feel the fear that he was experiencing, but I could also see the will to live and the gratefulness in his large yellow eyes when I was taking care of him. I could see a living being with the same desire as a human being; to be given a chance, to be cared for and to be loved. And I took care of him because I loved him, because it was the right thing to do. And now, six years later, I am glad that I gave him that chance.
We both are still suffering from our injuries and would most probably do so until the end of our days, but we live and we enjoy it. We both received a second chance in life and both of us are grateful for that chance.