There are many free-range cattle farms in Southern Africa where the environment is often at risk because seasonal rains are late. When the savannah is dry and brittle, wind erosion causes much damage which is worsened when fires ignite spontaneously, or villains start fires, deliberately destroying precious grasslands. This series of adventures gives young readers glimpses of the ups and downs of making a living on a free-range cattle farm as seen from the furry and feathered friends’ point of view – many of them being rescue animals and birds. Hope – an elusive bird with pink eyelids – relates their stories from his vantage point high up in an African acacia. One of his first stories has to do with Flame’s life as a sickly, weak pup in the desert and the circumstances which lead to his adoption by a kind, free-range cattle farmer. Far from his home, the young pup faces many challenges, but when he becomes big and strong, he remembers his promise to his first mistress and with the help of the porch animals, their secret sanc’tree – Fauna Park – comes into existence within the boundaries of the farm. Here all vulnerable creatures are protected and cared for by Flame – would-be V.I.A. of the Molodi valley – and a few loyal friends. Hilarious stories about how Flame gets his name, why Fauna Park is established, or why it’s better not to break a promise to a stubborn goat and how Flame banishes a bad rat to the other side of the Llokodi Hills will keep young readers entertained for hours. Then too, their humans don’t know their language, which leads to many confusions and confrontations, but Flame has ingenious plans to get the good humans to do what they want. However, the plot thickens when Flame and his friends discover that a young orphan, not only understands them, but also speaksFaunalang fluently. Other foes such as a young, French-speaking martial eagle and poachers make life difficult for Flame and his friends. Many notable characters’ paths cross at Molodi. A sad martial eagle, a remarkable sand-grouse, a determined female eagle-owl, hoopoes, crimson-breasted shrikes, hornbills and many others find a home in Fauna Park with help from the family’s two cats and their rescued horse, Chestnut. Things take a dramatic turn in Book 2, when duty calls unexpectedly. Flame risks his life to save a vulnerable young zebra, doing so without regard for his own safety and so, a hero is born. A former foe becomes a friend, but during this particular rescue, Flame becomes very ill. Humans and furry-and-feathered friends surround him with love and care. While Flame is recovering from his illness, Hope finally tells Flame who he really is and where he comes from. Meanwhile, the chickens feed him their good eggs daily and the cats take over as his nurse aids – how will all this care turn out? When the good humans dig his grave, scary moments occur when they and the furry and feathered friends hear a soft bark, ‘Hello, my friends. Why are you looking so sad? Did anyone die?’ Life returns to normal until their Spring Day celebration which heralds startling events – amazing revelations and happy reunions.
With all the goings-on at the farm and in the bush, there’d always been much talk about Flame’s ways and his escapades – including not having a talent for herding animals. John James often said that Jack, Old Boy could find lost calves, but instead of driving them back to the herd, he would lie down next to them. He often remarked that if he hadn’t known better, it looked as if the calves and Jack, Old Boy were having a chat. Despite this failing, Flame accompanied his new master to the cattle posts every day. Meanwhile, Spike-BullT didn’t make friends with Flame and completely ignored him. However, Flame befriended quite a few animals and birds on the farm. Many of them had come from different parts of southern Africa. Some of them were nursed back to health by Marie, a kind French-speaking teacher, who ran a sanc’tree close to the James’ farm. The morning after the full moon, Flame was the first to arrive – he hadn’t forgotten about our meeting. He was no longer a skinny, scared or hungry puppy. The time had come for him to put his promise to Lera into action. The cats and Rocksy the rabbit appeared at the doggy trapdoor a short while later. Martin, a martial eagle, the African fish eagles, and many smaller birds arrived at the same time – the latter mostly to be part of a noisy audience. Flame thanked everyone for being there on time. I noticed that Spike-BullT had come out of the kitchen and was standing and listening on the porch. Flame lifted his left front paw and barked, ‘It’s a pity that the tawny eagles haven’t turned up for our special meeting and Spike-BullT has remained on the porch, but we can’t wait much longer. Perhaps they’ll come next time. I don’t want to keep the birds too long. They’ve little mouths to feed.’ He continued, ‘You all know about the events of three dry seasons ago, which brought me to the farm, as well as the promise I made to my first mistress, Lera. Now that I’m big and strong, the time has come for me to keep my promise. You’ll agree that there are many helpless ones – injured bush creatures – that need help and protection, right here in Molodi. The humans don’t always know what’s happening among us, or what our needs are. I’ve asked Martin to tell you what happened to him and his family.’ The martial eagle’s wings drooped down and he kleeoued, ‘There are many humans who want to hurt others. My partner and I had two hatchlings that disappeared without a trace. Over the past two seasons, we followed many leads. While we were looking further north-east, she died after eating poisoned bait meant for the pests which had destroyed farmers’ sunflower crops. Since then, I’ve been looking for our lost hatchlings on my own. I wish we’d had a safe place to come to then!’ There was a gasp. Until that moment, none of us had understood just how sad Martin’s life had become. For quite a while no one could chit or chat. Finally, Flame cleared his throat. He looked at the martial eagle and promised that he’d make it his goal to find out what had become of the hatchlings. Flame continued barking excitedly, ‘Please, everyone, we must try to prevent such bad things from happening. Can I rely on you to make a promise to protect other young, sickly or helpless bush creatures on the farm? The farmyard as far as the stone wall, windmill and concrete dam could become our sanc’tree, a special shelter for those who can’t look out for themselves.’
‘Many of us must hunt to stay alive, but perhaps we could find hunting territories away from the farm. Part of the protected area should also include the forest of giant baobab trees and riverine woodland as far as the shores of Molapo Lake,’ kleeoued Martin. ‘Flame, how would you manage to protect such a large area?’ thumped Rocksy. However, before any of us could respond, Spike-BullT looked down his Roman nose at us and snorted proudly, ‘You should all forget about this idea of protecting helpless bush creatures. Don’t let this little upstart influence you to make silly promises. I’ve always looked after the farmyard and I don’t need this . . . dog from the desert to come and take over, telling me what to do!’ he snarled fiercely. The next moment, he stormed towards Flame, the rabbit and the two cats. Flame moved forward quickly and stood between the bull-terrier and his friends. Since he was no longer a skinny, scared or hungry puppy, he barked bravely, ‘Spike-BullT, no one can take your place . . .’ Flame had no time to finish his barks, because Spike-BullT jumped at him with an angry growl and pushed him down. Before Flame could do anything, he snarled in his face and bit him on his nose. The nasty bull-terrier’s bite left Flame yelping. Then Spike-BullT immediately returned to the step outside the porch and looked back at Flame a few times, lifting his lips and showing his large teeth. He wasn’t grinning like Flame always did whenever he was happy. Growling deep inside his throat, he barked a final warning, ‘Flame, that’s what I think of you and your promise. You’re nobody. Stick to your job at the cattle posts. If it hadn’t been for my master, John James, I’d have finished you off right now.’ The bull-terrier had unsettled most of the birds and animals that morning but, after a while, Flame lifted his head up. He had a very determined look in his eyes when he continued, ‘I know for some of you this promise will mean great sacrifice because you’ll have to give up hunting close to the farm. As Martin explained, you’ll have to find hunting territories elsewhere. We’ve also seen that not everyone will support us but, my friends, the rewards will be great. We’ll make friends who’ll help us and find a few foes who’ll be against us, but our promise will stand.’ There was nothing more to think about. Flame’s brief, unpleasant brush with Spike-BullT had made up everyone’s minds. The African fish eagles were the first to accept the promise. They threw their heads back, touching the feathers behind their necks, and gave their strange, shrill cries. At the same time the rest of the feathered friends in the acacia put their wings together and called, ‘Yes!’ At once, the porch animals used their paws, clapped three times and made all sorts of loud sounds, thumping and meowing, ‘Yes, we also agree.’
Their agreement meant that they would keep the promise and accept the bush creatures’ second motto. Whatever the weather, we have recourse. Friends stick together and finish the course! After all the excitement, we almost forgot a very important matter. There was one more thing we needed to discuss that morning – a name for our secret place. ‘Flame said that it could be called Peace Park or Fauna Park,’ Martin kleeoued. The cats promptly meowed together, ‘We like the sound of Fauna Park.’ ‘Are there any other thoughts?’ Flame barked. The African fish eagles threw their heads back again, flapped their wings and cried out shrilly, ‘Fauna Park is the best choice. There might not always be peace in the park. The tawny eagles might come hunting here.’ There were no other suggestions or objections. And so it was that Fauna Park came to be. At the time no humans knew of its existence. We furry and feathered friends decided it was a secret best kept with us.
How about some illustrations from the book! There are so many fantastic illustrations in the book I had a hard time picking which ones to share. I hope you like my choice. These go along with the excerpt you've just read!
Fauna Park by Maretha Botha
Pair of Fish Eagles by Maretha Botha
Let's talk about Maretha Botha, the author, the artist..
I'm a librarian who has confidence that great stories will always be told, read and collected in beautiful hardcovers or paperbacks, having a special place on a shelf - really that such stories in bookform will be around when my grandchildren have grown up - unless we've managed to destroy every resource used for making paper. . .
My preachy speech must include: Cultivate a love in children to read as much possible and whenever they can. When they are adults they will thank you for giving them a great gift.
During the past two years I've researched the habits, needs and territories of smaller birds in southern Africa, using this information as a background for small adventure stories for children - based on fact and personal observation. I intend to publish the first of this series later this year - hopefully towards the end of August.
Caring for the environment, protecting the habitats of so-called "lesser" birds and smaller animals is important to me. Seeing domestic animals neglected and left to their own devices is something I detest.
Jack, my bull-terrier died in the line of duty and Jill, a boer-bull was stolen from our property during a very severe thunderstorm. I've never found her.