End of term – so I missed the deadline for Gardening Gone Wild’s Picture This competition. The theme was movement; make the blur work. I’d taken a few feeble shots, none worth processing, let alone entering. Today I discovered ten day old pics on my small camera, taken to explain to Lucas, my foreman, how the irrigation works. (If you’re wondering, on the same principle as a coiled hose opened strongly which then snakes around wetting your ankles – and makes mischief by shooting in through an open window or finding your camera on a table meters away, whilst you hop around trying to grab it by the neck.) An excellent concept when it works and impossible to fix when it doesn’t, which is why this brilliant and cheap system has simply faded away instead of taking over the world. It looks like this, although what you see with the naked eye is basically an opening and closing cone:

That could have been an entry – or even one from a somewhat better series I took years ago, if I looked deeply into my archives. Or this could have been my entry:


I have known for forty years that there are otters that visit our dams. Once, thirty years ago when one could still look over Freddy’s Dam from afar, before so many trees and shrubs grew along it, I saw an otter from a distance. But it noticed I was there and disappeared. Over the years I twice saw from my window, meters away from the water,  larger concentric rings than those caused by fish or fowl, and realised that the odd squirming was an otter playing in the shallows. Then eventually, and with the help of binocs, I spent ten minutes watching one at play, until the dogs were alerted by its splashing, went out and barked, and it disappeared without so much as a bubble to show its retreat.

Today I again saw those rings on Freddy’s Dam, saw the movement near the overflow – then nothing. And expecting nothing I crossed over the dam wall. As we got to the overflow the dogs barked excitedly and dashed down the stream. I followed, a lot slower. Then there was barking from the upper edge of the Makou Dam, and snorting. My blood ran cold as I called off the dogs. I thought they had flushed a bushpig, by far the most dangerous animal we have.

Mateczka intrigued

But this was a different sound – and when I caught up, the dogs, holding back uncertainly, partially listening to me and partially not knowing what to make of the situation, were much too close for comfort to this inquisitive creature, as keen to figure out what we were as we it.

Otter checking

Standing ankle deep in cold mud, my camera on the wrong setting, I again called off the dogs. There were two otters, and they were not about to go into hiding… I had to skirt this area, calling off the dogs all the time, heading for a point where I could look down on them. In the gewaldt the otters were separated. I watched them get back together in the safety of the middle of the dam, kiss, and then proceed to inspect us further!

Otters 2

Why were these shyest of creatures so bold? Is it mating season? Like us, do they tend to throw caution to the wind when the urge hits? I’d love to know! But what we had, spread over a good five minutes until I decided I better get the dogs away, was a photo session which despite poor light I would describe as not too shabby.


Pity it all happened three days too late. On the other hand: it was worth waiting thirty years for.



    • A function of our age? 😉 My favourite cousins on either side of the family both become grandmothers this month. Now THAT to me is a scary thought!

  1. Great pictures of the otters — and think how much more you delight in them after the 30-year wait. Did the dogs get a treat for helping you discover them?

  2. Hi, Jack!

    Great pics of the otters! I didn’t know otters lived in Africa! And what, exactly, are “bushpigs”? I’ve never heard of them before. Also, why do you have your long school holidays in the winter, rather than in the summer when it’s so hot outside? Another question: Are you far enough south of the equator for it to make much change in the length of daylight as the seasons change?


    • Hi Gord! We have two species of Otter in SA – this is themore common Cape Clawless. Bush pigs are similar to the Wild Boar that Asterix and Obelix are so fond of hunting. This holiday is only 3 weeks long. For many it is an important holiday (including myself) for it is the bushveld season in which those so inclined also go hunting. Summer is much too hot in the bushveld. I will be going up to my cousin’s game farm that I’ve written about before for a few days. Summer is traditionally seaside or mountain time. Midwinter’s day was about 10.5hours, which I guess will make midsummer about 13.5 hours. Not a huge difference by your standards!

  3. I would love to see otters in the wild – you are very lucky. Maybe they havent encountered many humans or dogs so didnt realise they should hide – just an idea.

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