I have had lions on my verandah, a snake in my loo, meerkats on my head and now squirrels in my bra – whatever next?
I was staying at Apoka Lodge in Kidepo National Park, northern Uganda, right on the border with Sudan. This park took my breath away – it is truly one of the most remote and beautiful places I have ever visited. Apoka is the only lodge in this whole park! The Kidepo Valley National Park is one of Uganda’s most spectacular parks. It is 1,442 square kilometres and has the most spectacular scenery.
One of the activities on my itinerary was a visit to a local village. We set off, game viewing along the way, and were greeted by the many villagers on arrival. The chief took us around his village but I got distracted, taking some photos of the children.
At this point, I was approached by a shy young boy, who came up to me and furtively opened his palm to reveal a TINY squirrel, not more than a few days old with its eyes still closed. My heart told me instinctively to ask him to give it to me and try to help it, but my head told me NO!!!. I was at the start of a two week trip and could ill afford to be saddled with a young squirrel that was more than likely going to die. I walked on…..
A minute later, I turned back and went to ask him to hand it over to me – I just could not leave it. He then told me he had another and ran off to fetch it. Now WHAT?
Through an interpreter I gleaned that they had killed the mother for food (the harsh realities of village life) and that the little boy was trying to keep the babies but did not know how to take care of them. I then went to the game guard who has accompanied us to the village to ask if I could take them as I was staying in a National Park and would need permission to take them back in. He said that as long as I did not pay the child, as this would encourage them to kill more mothers and sell the babies, I could take them and try and give them a sporting chance at survival.
So, there I was in one of the MOST remote places on earth, with two dehydrated and dying baby squirrels. I managed to get each one to take a drop of water and then hugged them closer to keep them warm. Within two seconds they had shot down the front of my shirt and actually burrowed right into my bra – and that ladies and gentlemen is how they got their names – TIT and TAT! Their little tails stuck out of my shirt collar and this was just too much for the villagers! All the women were so intrigued and there I was surrounded by villagers all peering down the front of my shirt and rolling about in laughter at this mad white lady!
We set off back to the lodge. One of my fellow travellers offered me a dropper from her eye drops. I cleaned this out thoroughly and then got a little milk and mixed it with my friend’s Barley green. Once they had learnt to suck from the dropper, they greedily took to it and I woke up every two hours to feed them. By the next morning they were already much stronger and sleeping in a little basket, although while I was awake they were back into the bra at any opportunity!
So, I now had a dilemma on my hands. What was I to do with them? Luckily, our next stop was Semliki Lodge in Semliki National Park. The lodge managers there were also South Africans and I found out that they had raised squirrels before. On arrival they rushed up greet us, but I could see that they were beside themselves to get to my little wards. Nadia was overjoyed to have them and whipped them off to get a proper meal of milk, egg yolk and a little brown sugar. Being the softie that I am, I had already got attached to them and burst into tears at my ‘loss’!
So, they have been living at Semliki for the past few months and have grown into fat, healthy, beautiful little ladies – two gorgeous sisters. However, we now have a difficult decision to make. They have recently come into oestrus and are looking for mates. There are no other Striped Ground Squirrels in Semliki and they cannot go back to Apoka as they will not survive in the wild.
There is a zoo in Kampala where these squirrels run wild in the grounds and live off nuts and food thrown by visitors. If we released them there, they may find a mate and go on to live a semi ‘normal’ life. Do we do this, or leave them together with their ‘humans’ at Semliki, where they always have a warm bed and plenty of food? Let me know what you would do?
And that, dear readers, is the Tale of Tit and Tat, two little Striped Ground Squirrel sisters that stole my heart in Uganda.