Take Three

I visited my wee pals the “rooikat” again recently. Their ears have grown more than their bodies this time . Especially the male- he has ears almost as long as his body is tall and wonderful fluffy tufts on the ends.  The female is quite a bit smaller and shyer than the male.

the terrible twosome- terribly gorgeous

the terrible twosome- terribly gorgeous

There is much controversy about the keeping of animals that are supposed to be wild and the photo of me holding one of my subjects, and my son sitting near another- will not appeal to all.  These days it is a very hard debate especially for caracal. Some people will say there is no debate and that all wild animals should be free.  Is this a realistic view today? Some will say all caracal should be dead….. How to shoot captive animals and their relationships with humans is something we talk about a lot in my wildlife photography program 

Caracals have a bit of a raw deal actually- even more raw than other “apex” cats. In the wild caracal are blamed for stock deaths, especially that of lambs – and they are shot with wild abandon by angry farmers.  Rooikat have no protection under the law and farmers can kill as many as they can find in whichever way they chose. It seems that kittens are often the innocent victims and some farmers are too soft to kill them too. This pair has found themselves in a rehabilitation program after a farmer shot their mother. A pair of kittens without a mother will not survive especially in the area they were found- right in the middle of farmland.Can these two kittens be released? As you will see from the album pictures these wild animals are very comfortable around humans. Will they be able to fend for themselves and would they be safe if released ? “Yes” say the experts. Ideally these kittens will be given a “soft release” meaning that they could be released near where they are being looked after (on a reserve) and they will be able to return to their care-givers, as and when they need to.

A friend in Wilderness (about 100 km’s from here) told me that a caracal and two kittens had moved into town recently. The mother left and one of the kittens was run over on the highway. Before this, 42 local cats went missing, presumed to have been taken by the caracal mother. As much as I love caracal I am pretty relieved that I do not live in Wilderness right now. I have four beloved cats and I started to understand a little more – how a farmer would feel after having baby lambs taken.According to the Landmark Foundation farmers may often shoot to kill without knowing all the facts and caracal are often not the cause of stock losses.Whatever your thoughts on this controversial subject- one thing are clear- the kittens are alive and will be released back into the wild later this year.

long ears like antennae

long ears like antennae

More Monkey Business

This February I found myself back in one of my favourite places on the Garden Route- Monkeyland. Why do I feel this way?  I love the forest; the ethic and the fact that you get a chance to see more than 550 primates. More about the ethics later- perhaps the best thing about visiting this natural forest- is the fact that all citizens are free roaming !The ethics of this sanctuary are exemplary. is a facility where animals are brought to live out their lives in an environment that resembles – as close as possible – that which should be their natural homes. The animals are often rescued from situations where they’ve been kept as pets or where they’ve been abused. It’s usually inappropriate to release the animals – either because they’ve been habituated to man, or because they aren’t indigenous to the area or country in which they were found. Today I wish to present an album with some of my fave shots from last week. Next time: There is a special monkey house that I am hoping to access for photos next month… and more to write about- as there ARE some special monkeys in there!


February 2014




  • Web site www.monkeyland.co.za
  • E-mail lara@monkeyland.co.za
  • Telephone 0027 (0)44 534 8906
  • Mobile 0027 (0)82 9795683
  • Portion 11 and 12 of Kirbywood, The Crags, Western Cape Province, South Africa 6602
  • P.O. Box 1190 Plettenberg Bay 6600
  • Directions: Turn-off N2 at the Monkeyland sign (2 km east of Kurland village)
  • GPS: S 33 56’46.09″ E 23 29’8.13″

growing kittens

This is an update to my  previous post from 11 November on the caramel caracal kittens that appears here https://fionaayerst.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/caramel-caracals/ . When I first saw the kittens we reckoned they were about 4 weeks old and I went back to check on them at about 8 weeks. Unfortunately,  one had died from unknown causes…. it’s all about survival of the fittest I suppose. The remaining  two kittens are a male and female and are both sporting lovely rounded fat spotty tummies and velvety soft paws- until the claws come out that is . I took a look at the size of those claws- they are nothing like a domestic cats!

fat round tummies are order of the day

fat round tummies are order of the day

I decided to try and get some pictures of them with white and black backgrounds so that you can see their features clearly as they are incredibly beautiful cats. I love all cats but these guys are something special. The emerging photos looked like a model shoot- but I think that works well for them as they are as gorgeous as models.  I have so many favourite photos of them it was impossible for me to choose and so at the end of this post you will find quite  a selection. Some with black and one with white backgrounds- I think they look great in front of either.

caracal kittens 9 weeks-1

I was especially interested to see how the caracal kittens eyes are changing colour. From the baby blue in the first shoot 4 weeks ago- to a stunning  aquamarine blue/green now. I am guessing that by the next time I see them the eyes will all be lime-slate green. You can see against the white- how the hairs on the tips of their ears are starting to grow.

Their carers have been trying to feed them correctly and spend as little time as possible with them so that when they are ready ( around 9 months ) they can be released back into the wild where they belong. Sometimes kittens are orphaned when their mothers are shot. The male caracal does not care for his young and does not stay with the female after mating. On occasions the farmers may find the kittens due to the loud hissing or calling noises they make and some farmers may take the babies to a rehabilitation center to be raised. The babies are not perceived as a threat as they are so small (and cute).  The photos used in this article were photographed at one such center in the Western Cape of South Africa.  It is difficult to raise a predator and to rehabilitate it and those who try often do more harm than good. It is possible that kittens that get hand- raised are on the incorrect diet and this could result in hypocalcemia. This means the cat will have softened and brittle vertebrae and bones. Most rehabilitation centers appeal to the public – not to attempt to raise any wildlife orphans at home, but rather contact a reputable rehabilitation center to take on this daunting, but rewarding, task.

caracal kittens 9 weeks-10

floppy ears and bright eyes- a winning combination for cuteness of the year award

If you want to have a chance to photo animals like this come and join onto my wildlife and adventure sports internship program in Mossel Bay. See http://www.oceans-campus.com to book and for more info. Should you hear of anyone with caracal kittens please let them know the contents of this blog and contact the landmark foundation or myself so that we can advise where they should go to be afforded the best chance in life. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the pictures of these supreme predators who I have been happy to photograph- what a special gift. How lucky I am.  Enjoy the mix of photos.

The Sadness of Stranding

Yesterday, 4 October 2013, Oceans Research and Africa Media received a call from Craig Viljoen who runs the Cetacean Stranding Unit in the Mossel Bay area. Craig asked us for assistance with a mother and calf pygmy sperm whale found washed up on third beach Dana Bay (about 15 minutes South of Mossel Bay).

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the interns watch hoping.. that against all odds… their valiant efforts will make the difference…….

The pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) is a really small toothed whale. They are not often sighted at sea, and most of what is known about them comes from the examination of stranded specimens. Their conservation status is unknown as they are so seldom seen and there is very little research on them. Stranded animals have been found with plastic bags in their stomachs. Today further tests will be performed and I have requested that the stomachs be checked for plastics. If my hunch is correct and they have plastic in their stomachs then the devastation we already feel will be exacerbated, as it seems such a ridiculous- and certainly an avoidable- reason for them to die.

Here’s how it played out: As we arrived at third beach and ran down the dune we could see the tiny whales animals lying on the beach trying to breathe through their small blowholes- but struggling. On seeing this, the teams of interns dropped everything they had and  after receiving a briefing from Craig immediately got into the breaking waves- mostly fully clothed- thus putting their own lives at risk to save the two struggling animals.  the interns followed a co-ordinated approach in which they tried to bring the mother and baby together; helping to support them to hold their blowholes above the waves so that they could keep breathing; talk calmly to them to calm them down and also to hold them facing into the waves to try and get them to go out together as this would be the only way to get both of them out to sea successfully. There were huge rolling waves and it wasn’t always possible to keep or launch them together due to turbulence.  The baby really struggled to get out at the back line and always seemed to turn broadside to the waves and roll back in. Then the mother – tried to come back in to be with her calf and ended up getting stranded again. This happened two or three times  The mother whale was 3 meters long and her weaned male calf was 2.5 m long. It is easy to see how small these whales are from these photos where you can compare them with the size of the people. 

The interns swam the whales out with each other at least three times and each time; just as we all thought we had been successful; the whales came back in to the beach. I spoke to the Oceans Research Cetacean expert, Monica Betts- who told me that there could be hundreds of reasons for the stranding. Monica took samples from both animals and we measured them and all this will be sent off for testing and perhaps some clue as to why this happened.

2013-10-04 10.55.27

the fully clothed interns swam out the mother and son whale over and over but the surf conditions weren’t favourable

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the interns tried everything they could and swam the whales out together twice but also individually around six times

We persisted with the rescue operation for hours but each time the whales landed up on the beach again they were more bruised and bloody that the time before. Monica told me that they have an extremely sensitive skin and can easily get cut and bruised from rolling in the surf. The female started to push out a lot of blood and it seemed that she was hurt in some way.

2013-10-04 11.10.38

At times it was really difficult for me to not put my cameras down but I knew the scene had to be documented so that people can see the effects of polluting our oceans. Honestly, sometimes I am thankful I have a camera as it feels to me I am removed from a situation via my lenses – glass and plastic protection.

After repeated efforts to save the whales fell short, the public was asked to leave the scene and the animals were euthanized – l have asked if a necropsy — an animal autopsy — will take place to determine the cause of death but as have yet to hear what will happen. If seems that a necropsy should be performed to try and determine the cause of death; amongst other things. So little is known about pygmy sperm whales it seems crazy not to utilise their bodies to increase our knowledge of them.

We had a long time to try and calm down the tiny mammals and be with them on the beach – while we waited for the emergency services to come. Many interns laid hands of the whales, which seemed to soothe them and we laid wet shirts over them. I looked into the baby’s eye and was startled to see that it is the same colour as the sea- a stunning cerulean blue. Their faces resemble hippos rather than whales and they are surprisingly mammalian –I felt intimacy and similarity comparing their faces with ours. What the Oceans research and Africa Media interns experienced yesterday was extremely emotional and ultimately gut-wrenching and I think it is going to take many of us a long time to get over the awful feeling of helplessness and loss at the death of these two gorgeous whales.

and laid hands on them

soothing hands… the interns were devastated that their brave actions did not pay off

He is going to kill me for this late insert but I would also like to specially acknowledge my husband Ryan Johnson who had major knee surgery two weeks ago- for what he did- wading through the huge rolling waves and trying to guide the whales out and for all his work in managing the process- both the whales and the interns could not have been in better(or gentler) hands…

2013-10-04 11.10.59

Ryan had knee surgery two weeks ago but was out there fighting to get the whales out to sea… ” can’t keep a good man down” !!


A further special mention to field specialist Braham Smit – who risked his safety to save one of his colleagues who – caring so much- had gone himself into a bit of “deep water” ! Nice team work.

the interns put their own lives at risk at times

the interns put their own lives at risk at times and Braham pulled Jack out just at the right time

It is time to act: even if you didn’t throw the rubbish down- if you see plastics or any form of pollution on your coastline or even in the streets- please either report if to the local authorities or, if you can do it safely- pick it up yourself. You will be saving the lives of many animals; like the two tiny whales we had to say goodbye to on a deserted beach yesterday afternoon.

Fiona Ayerst

5 October 2013