A Hard-hearted Guide to “Pets in Africa”

So you are going overseas, you plan to raise your kids abroad and visions of “Born Free” and  Gerald Durrell books dance in your head?  Don’t even think of it.  With a few exceptions stand firm and say, “No.”


Don’t get me wrong. I like pets- a cat particularly.  A cat is the equivalent of an emotional heat sink for me. We usually had one in Ghana. Cats in Ghana rarely live more than a few years. Having one  taught my children that animals die, and that one kitten can replace another in your affections.  I’ve also found out, now that we commute to and fro across the Atlantic, and have no house cat, that mice quickly take over your residence when no mousers live in.

However, living outside of North America much of my life, including the varied pet experiences of my youth,  has coloured my attitude to them. Unless you have gobs of free time and can remain  emotionally unattached to cute wild animals don’t even think about raising them ( sometimes it’s illegal as well).

I only weakened twice in Ghana that I can think of.

Once I tried to rescue a wild dove squab, and it was doing quite well on those two hourly feedings until it was stolen. I’m sure it was promptly turned into a tasty snack. My emotions were mixed of course, but it was a relief to give up the feedings.

And once we accepted a small squirrel- utterly adorable.  Except that night the watchman came into the living room for something, saw a small creature scampering across the floor, and reflexively stamped on it, with the children all watching.  It was not a happy moment.

After that, when we moved to Nkonya I admired all the small wild creatures hunters brought to my door, and accepted none.  Have I already indicated that  wild baby animals and birds require  intensive time-consuming feeding schedules?  They usually die, even with hours of effort.  Monkeys have a way of surviving but they do not toilet train, turn nasty when their teen hormones kick in, and can transmit diseases to humans.

I don’t generally recommend a dog either.  I’ve seen very few dogs, kept by North Americans abroad, that were not problematic.  Once in the Trucial States my parents acquired a puppy for us, because my father felt that our childhoods were incomplete without one.   In retrospect it seems unwise  to me for North Americans to raise a dog in a society that considers them unclean.  We can’t own one without petting and making much of it.

However that  was not the cause of Rinty’s demise.  He started chasing goats.  This was not friend-making so he was chained up. Chained dogs develop attitudes that also do not make friends.  He was taken out to the desert and met an unhappy end.  In Ghana, I observed the same problems with dogs generally, and especially with neurotic guard dogs.

If you need animals in your life a good rule of thumb would be to raise what people around you raise.  Then eat them-  with the exception of cats.  I draw the line at eating felines.


1 Comment »

  1. A. Lurkar said

    “reflexively stamped on it, with the children all watching. It was not a happy moment.”

    Poor little Chipper.

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