Written by Dr Erika de Jager BVSc BSc Agric (Hons), veterinarian and owner of Zuri’s Orphanage
On the 24th of October 2016, I was enjoying a bit of relaxing horse riding when I received a call from one of my clients. She asked if I would like a baby aardvark. I could not believe my ears; I immediately said, “When?” Her answer: “I’m dropping her off at the practice.”
It was love at first sight
An hour later, Gertie and I met for the first time… and it was love at first sight, just as with ET, our other rescue aardvark. She was found alone in the veldt, completely dehydrated and covered in sunburn sores, near death. We immediately gave her some special formula milk but the tiny orphaned aardvark battled to drink. We were desperate, afraid she might die. We persevered but it was only two days later that she really started drinking.
For the next few days and nights, the weakened baby aardvark mostly slept. When she wasn’t sleeping, she was eating. We made a bed for her at night in the bath and during the days took her for walks with the dogs. For the next month, Gertie accompanied me to work every day, growing in strength and confidence – and getting to know everyone. Soon, Gertie had a fan club.
A friend to all
While Gertie gets on with everyone and has made friends with all our dogs, she especially likes Spokie, our white-and-black Jack Russell. She started coming to visit the horses with me, going for longer walks, and even joined us for a stay at a game lodge where she met some other aardvarks. When we visit neighbours, Gertie comes along – and is friends with their dogs too. She was also very popular with the children of Tsumeb.
This little aardvark loves walking with the dogs and enjoys playing with them in the evenings. In December she met ET, our other orphaned aardvark. We took our time and were careful introducing them. Eventually, we hope to integrate Gertie with the other aardvarks on the farm.
Not only is she winning everyone over, Gertie has also become a celebrity, having appeared in Namibia’s Republikein newspaper and the online news site, The Dodo. She is an ambassador for aardvarks.
Gertie isn’t as strong as ET (see http://www.happytailsmagazine.co.za/news-articles/making-a-difference/zuri-orphanage) was at this stage, probably because she was in such a bad condition when she was found. We try to keep her active, which is good for her recovery, and she goes out every day for “digging training”, a natural behaviour for aardvarks and the reason they have such big, clawed front paws. She loves it, although she still gets very tired. The start of the 2017 rainy season saw our little miss playing in puddles for the first time – and having an absolute blast.
Being nocturnal, she sleeps most of the day away, joining us for walks in the mornings and evenings. We’ve built her a “cave” that mimics a hole in the ground (aardvarks normally sleep in burrows) and she loves sleeping in that. The idea is to keep things as natural as we can so she doesn’t have trouble integrating with other aardvarks.
Gertie has changed my life for the better and has also made many people around the world aware that aardvarks are very special animals. She had a very special role to play in helping people understand her species, which although not classified as endangered, are vulnerable to the impact of humans. She is also teaching us behaviour traits about aardvarks that we would never have known.
Thank you Happy Tails for telling Gertie’s story.
The vision of ZURI Orphanage is to help wild animals in need, to share these animals with all animal lovers and bring nature closer to everyone. As a vet and scientist, I am also gathering data especially from the aardvarks because there is not much known about them.
But Zuri Orphanage needs help to keep helping animals like Gertie and ET (who eats a box of Pronutro a day on his own). Please visit www.zuriorphanage.com for more information.
Check out ET, Gertie and their friends on Zuri Orphanage’s Facebook page video section: https://www.youtube.com/embed/UECUBvYcvvQ)