Author of Gardens & I


I present: a klipklaasneus, or Eastern rock elephant shrew, sunning itself on the Matobo Hills of Zimbabwe, where it was spotted and immortalised by CH Langley (thank you very much for permission to use the photo). It is one of our elephant shrews, each more adorable than the other - what do you expect of a genus with species called Lesser Dwarf and Least Dwarf and Bushveld Elephant?

I have no desire to see the Big Five. Who'd want to see an elephant when the Bushveld Elephant shrew is roaming about?

A whitetailed mongoose was recently startled by me standing outside in the bright moonlight at 3am. It had the figure of a long dog; most noticeable was a plumy whitish tail curled upwards. It looked at me for some long moments, then ran off with darling heavy tread - more audible than that of a dog - and for minutes afterwards I could hear it sniffling about. Discretion is not its middle name.

It, like the inimitable ratel or honey badger, is a member of the Mustelidae family - meaning it has musk to spray when the mood is right. It also means it's a member of one of the animal families with the most character and chutzpah. And they, plus the aardwolf, are all covered by the same blanket sheepkiller category. How anyone can think the whitetailed mongoose, even though as large as a medium-sized dog, is a ferocious stock thief, confounds me. And the poor aardwolf, like a brown hyena, lives on termites! (Ferocity and stock losses is more the thing of Family Felidae.)

I speak as if I know much about Mustelidae - I know what I've learned from Bookey Peek who lives in the Matobo Hills of Zimbabwe, like the shrew above. She raised an orphaned ratel and wrote about it in Wild honey, accompanied by a National Geographic documentary filmed by her husband Richard. This interview with her on ABC Radio Brisbane, conducted by Richard Fidler, is sublime. (How sublime? Says Pam O’ Brien, producer of Conversations with Richard Fidler: ‘‘She made me want to visit Zimbabwe, which is surely no mean feat!” Sela.)

What else is sublime?