12 November 2009

Zoo in my garden

Africa, and by extension Schoenmakerskop where I live, is not for sissies. Transporting and installing the fish pond in the garden was easy and a lovely little eco-system developed over a few weeks.

What was really exciting was to monitor the creatures that discovered the pond. One of the first visitors was the Brown Hooded Kingfisher, a terrestrial kingfisher that is supposed to hang around the veld and eat lizards and whatever else it fancies. They wiped out the fish population it two days. The Natal Green Watersnake was welcome too, iridescent green and non-venomous. The Painted Reed Frogs are very small, delicate with dark pink on the under parts (a designer’s masterpiece) and their high pitch whistle which, while deafening, is bearable.

The bad news was the Raucous Toad. My frog guide describes the call as “rasping quacks repeated constantly. About two per second.” I don’t know if you have ever tried sleeping about 5 meters from rasping quacks that are repeated twice a second. Also you can multiply the rasping quacks by the number of toads present. Duck quacks can be comforting in the distance but a machine gun like rasping quack is too much for any relationship to bear and that is why on most evenings this time of the year I spend quality time with my toads. I am armed with a torch, bucket and braai (barbecue to you) tongs. Catching toads is not easy. There are predators that target them (mainly snakes) and if you are not careful all you get to see is ripple in the water where the toad dived.

The easiest way to catch them is when they are in the act and the bonus is you can catch them two at a time. If you don’t get them early enough the pond is filled with strings of spawn. I probably hold the world record for the greatest number of Raucous Toads in one evening. There were 9 and it was not easy.

Life is tough for toads. The Kihasi Spray Toad is in critical danger of extinction because of a dam built on the Kihasi River. Seems they live in the spray zone of the falls and the new dam and a fungus disease has reduced their number so drastically that the last 500 or so have been taken into captivity for breeding programmes. The Raucous Toad is not in danger of extinction – every morning I carry my bucket to a nearby swamp and release my captives.

And yes toads are generally unloved. Some of their names like Raucous, Guttural and Snoring Toads suggest that they are too noisy. The descriptions of some of the other species’ calls like “Gaa, gaa, gaa” (Sand Toad), “rasping squawks, one per second” (Karoo Toad), raucous rapidly trilled bray (Flat-Backed Toad), “deep pulsatile snore of 1 second” (Leopard Toad), “very deep muffled booming sound” (Red Toad) and “short nasal rasping” (Pigmy Toad) shows how hard we have it. Perhaps they should have been named after music. The Moonlight Sonata Toad is an unlikely name but there is room for the 1812 Overture Toad and the Led Zepplin Toad makes perfect sense at one o’clock in the morning.

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