Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chuck Has Scare by Baby Hippo at Mt. Kenya Animal Orphanage

We arrived at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club expecting to be pampered.  Chuck came for another reason entirely. He was not put off by the "falling into the pool" episode.  For full details, see blog post entitled: Chuck is Outsmarted by Bird at Mt. Kenya Safari Club. 

He’d heard about the orphanage, run by a foundation set up by the lovely Stefanie Powers, who’d had nine year relationship with William Holden, who’d founded the Mt. Kenya Safari Club. This orphanage was still in operation on the premises. It’s main mission was to rescue and treat injured animals from the wild and then return them back to their homes on the plains. How cool is that!

So, the trick was to sneak Chuck into the orphanage and let him walk around and see the animals without being seen himself. Not easy since although the orphanage was teeming with all sorts of animals roaming around, none of them were cats. House cats, I mean.

Luckily, security was not that tight at the orphanage.  We bought a ticket - a kind of donation to the project - and we wandered onto the grounds, casual like.  So getting in was easy.  Staying in with Chuck was the challenge, and once we got inside the orphanage, we definitely wanted to stay in! 

I can imagine what you’re thinking--animal orphanage.  The only frame of reference I had before I arrived were human orphanages--old smelly buildings as I imagined them to be from watching vintage black and white movies--but this orphanage was mostly an outside facility on lovely grounds with the animals allowed to roam free. As we meandered from one area of the orphanage to the other, we met the different animals who were recuperating here--in their natural habitat.  

It was too much for Chuck.  He did not appreciate being stuffed into my shoulder bag. He wanted out, but I thought allowing a house cat to wander free in an orphanage with wild animals recuperating was too dangerous. 

The day we were there wasn’t very crowded with people, but I couldn’t trust that Chuck wouldn’t wander off somewhere and have a close encounter with the wrong kind of wild animal -- a giant tortoise OR baby buffalo OR leopard OR . . .

Of course, that was exactly what happened. This fabulous orphanage is all about providing a natural habitat for the animal it is rehabilitating. 

Take, for instance, a baby hippo . . .

A baby hippo needs water.  The rivers, lakes and swamps in Kenya are filled with hippos.  You can see their heads pop up and down as you wander along almost any river in Kenya. But when you walk along that river, you are accompanied by a soldier who has a gun.  Hippos attack and kill more unarmed “pedestrians” than any other animal in Africa and are considered the most aggressive animal in Africa. You’ve heard the story--by the time you realize the hippo is emerging from the water to come and greet you, it’s already too late.  Hippos can outrun humans on land, moving at approximately nineteen miles per hour. 

We wandered down the lovely embankment to see the “baby,” lulled, perhaps, by the word “baby.” But, when adult hippos weigh on average between 3 to 4,000 pounds and the heaviest hippo was recorded at 9,000 pounds, we were in desperate need of some perspective. 

I’d heard that hippos were endangered.  They were regularly hunted for their meat and their canine ivory teeth. When left alone, they had the potential for living good long lives.  In fact, the oldest hippo in captivity had lived to the ripe old age of 61 in Germany. The average lifespan was between 40 -50 years old.

Chuck wanted to meet the baby hippo.  I quickly scanned the water in front of me, knowing some of these facts about hippos--I’m not a complete fool--but there was nothing.  Some grasses.  Some mud.  A stream in front of us.  No hippo.  But I should have scooped Chuck up and called an end to the expedition. Sometimes it’s best to follow your extincts.
I didn’t do that.  I continued to meander with Chuck along the bank. Still no hippo.

We went a bit further, and I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe they’d taken him/her (the baby hippo) to the doctor. Maybe there was no baby hippo.  Maybe he’d gone on vacation?

But he was there all right. Out of nowhere he popped up in front of us. Popped right out of the water, like a jack in the box. 

I jumped back away from the water.  Chuck stood here, paralyzed it seemed to me. He stared at that hippo. Sure, technically we were looking at a hippo baby, but that baby was a big baby. What I would call a giant baby.  

Very slowly, I crouched down and reached out.  My intention was to put my hand on Chuck who was in front of me on the ground and pull him toward me.  Pick Chuck up and then move backwards.  Kind of “moonwalk” backwards.

But it all happened at once. The hippo moved toward us.  Then, unexpectedly, he opened his mouth. YIKES.

“The bigger to eat you with, my dear,” the big bad wolf says to Little Red Riding Hood, intending to eat her, of course. 

That line ran through my mind at the exact moment that Chuck meowed IN FEAR because that line was probably running through his mind, too. 
Now, Chuck’s a chunker but no match for the baby hippo. Chuck would be a small appetizer. 

I’m not so sure if Chuck jumped into my arms or I lifted him up, but I swirled around and scampered up the embankment as fast as humanly possible away from the baby hippo.

And I never looked back.

One of the lovely attendants who wander around the grounds and help guide you and answer questions, shot me a big smile, then looked concerned when she read the PANICKED expression on my face and called out, “Is everything all right?”

“Perfect,” I shouted, perhaps a bit too loudly.

“Is that a cat?” I heard her ask, her voice wallowing in the air, in the distance now, as I kept on heading for the exit.

Excuse me. I’m not usually a rude person, but in this particular instance, I didn’t bother to reply. 



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