Written by Dr Erika de Jager BVSc BSc Agric (Hons)
Zuri Orphanage was established as a “side effect” of my work as a veterinarian in Tsumeb, in the far north of Namibia, where I live. Tsumeb is over 400km away from Namibia’s main town, Windhoek, and there are few resources for orphaned and injured wild animals. My clients and the public would bring them to me and I would try to raise them as well as I could, and then release them on our small farm where it is safe to do so.
A burned cat started it off
Our first animal was Pippie, a severely burnt tortoiseshell cat. This sweet girl took months to heal and, although she lost her ears and still has scars, she’s the happiest, most lovable kitty you can imagine. And then came the others, from owls and hawks to porcupines and aardvarks.
Since then we’ve raised and rehabilitated many birds, including owls, hawks, and eagles; almost all were released back into the wild. Our latest, Edgar the Giant Eagle Owl, was blown out of his nest during a bad storm as a baby and brought to us for his own safety. He stayed with us at the vet practice at first until he was ready to be released – a very emotional moment for us all. He’s a phenomenal animal and we have since had many sightings close to where he was released.
A real menagerie
We’ve treated tortoises, snakes, warthogs, goats, and many more. In December 2016 we took in 33 baby tortoises! Some of our more famous animals are Hermanus the baby porcupine and ET the aardvark – and now, little Gertie.
Hermanus, a Cape Porcupine, was found clinging to his dead mother as a tiny, scruffy baby. Though little, he was already a force to be reckoned with, and his quills quickly became a prickly problem as they made him rather hard to handle. We hand-fed him with a dripper and he was so small he lived in a budgie cage; he quickly grew and was moved to a larger pen until he could be released. Hermanus has since grown into a healthy adult and comes to visit every evening with his family of six other porcupines.
Zuri’s awesome aardvarks
ET was our first-ever aardvark. This funny-looking guy was found by a lorry driver, huddled against his wheel, on the long, dusty road between Gobabis and Grootfontein. For me it was love at first sight. He weighed less than 5kgs and was totally helpless. Aardvarks live under the ground in burrows and are shy creatures. For ET to be exposed on the road must have been terrible for him.
At the time we still had a lot to learn about these incredible animals so that we could help ET. Thankfully, Dr Dorianne Elliott, a wildlife lecturer from the Onderstepoort veterinary faculty in Pretoria, helped us a lot. Initially ET stayed in the house, being hand-fed until he was old enough to be released five months later. Amazingly the dogs accepted him as one of their own and would always be by his side when he went for walks. The rest is history. During the first few months of his release we tracked him daily to make sure he was fine. Although ET was raised by humans, he is free to come and go as he pleases; he digs himself into a burrow during the day, and at night he often comes to visit. Although he feeds himself, he does enjoy getting food from us from time to time.
Our second aardvark, Gertie, was found by one of my clients on a farm. She was in very bad shape – sunburned and so severely dehydrated that she almost died. We bottle-fed Gertie with special imported milk formula. She is also friends with the dogs, and now that she’s bigger she’s full of beans and every evening we have to go for a walk with the dogs or she wakes us up at all hours of the night to play. Gertie still sleeps next to my bed.
Zuri to the rescue
The vision of ZURI Orphanage is to share these animals with all animal lovers and to hopefully bring nature closer to people who can’t always get to experience it. Being a scientist, I’m also trying to gather data, especially from the aardvarks, as there is not much known about them.
We have a Facebook page and a website: www.zuriorphanage.com. People can help with donations by buying ET some food or contributing to the running costs. ET eats one box of ProNutro per day.
Check out ET, Gertie and their friends in action on Zuri Orphanage’s Facebook page video section: https://www.youtube.com/embed/UECUBvYcvvQ)