I spent the morning on the Touch-a-cub shift, helping visitors to interact with the cubs. One of the local tour guides was taking a private tour group around, and he was enviably good with the cubs, putting his face right up next to theirs, and encouraging visitors to do the same.
My afternoon shift was in the giraffe hut, selling giraffe food to customers. After this I was supposed to be helping to refill the giraffe baskets which hang from the trees, supplementing natural food supplies. Myself and the two other volunteers gathered, but no staff member came to instruct us. We went up to the nursery to find someone to help, but the staff there gave us a different, more urgent task; catch the meerkat that escaped this morning. He often escapes through a hole in the wire, and runs around the boundary wall of the enclosure, teasing both the visitors and his fellow meerkats, before retreating back to the safety of the enclosure. This morning he got too brave, and fell from the 5ft wall, leaving him unable to retreat to the safety of his enclosure. He spent the intervening time alternating between heading for the game drive area of the park and returning to the bottom of the ominous wall, stuck in limbo between eternal freedom or the safety of his home with the other meerkats.
Setting off, four volunteers armed with a small animal cage (the sort of thing people use to transport their domestic cats to the vets), half a tin of cat food and no instruction, it felt suspiciously like the South African equivalent of sending the work experience kid to buy a tin of stripy paint, a feeling fuelled by the staff who were eating their lunch nearby offering little in the way of help or advice, instead treating us as the post-lunch cabaret entertainment.
When we saw the meerkat heading back up the field towards us, we set up a trail of cat food leading into the important cage, and sat very still, all finger, toes and bodily protrusions firmly crossed. After waiting very patiently, the meerkat stopping every few seconds to have a characteristic look around, he finally climbed halfway into the cage - at which point, a group of Japanese tourists realised what was happening and came trampling over to take photos. Bye bye meerkat.
The second time we were much closer, waiting until just a fraction of his tail was left outside, holding our breath until the right second to close the cage. Unfortunately, all four of us chose the sane second to lunge forward, which spooked the meerkat, and off he scampered again, much to the amusement of the staff. At this point, after 45 minutes of meerkat pursuit, we had to leave to go food shopping, so the staff said they would take over. Later in the evening, he was still on the loose, so it seems that despite their laughter and bravado, they had no more success than we did.
After I had finished my shopping, I went in search of stamps and a postbox, but any sort of mail system seems to be very elusive in these parts, with locals not even knowing of anywhere that sells stamps - it looks like I will be hand-delivering my lovingly-written postcards when I return to the UK. I also spent some time fuelling my foreign sweet fetish in the confectionery aisle, and was delighted to find white chocolate Smarties bars, a firm favourite of mine which were discontinued in the UK a few years ago. Naturally I stocked up!
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