Unusual visitors bring spot of magic to Walmer garden

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What’s largely spotted but seldom seen?
For most people that would be the large-spotted genet but one Walmer garden gets regular visits from the shy creatures that look like wild cats but are more closely related to the mongoose.
Ellen Paasche, whose house is in Northcliffe Avenue on the edge of the Baakens Valley, ascribed her good fortune to respect and awareness.
“They seem to appear when the valley is under stress from drought, fires, poaching or a sewage spill, or when it’s breeding season.
“It’s so special to have them. They’re very alert and refined. They sit in a tree or on our balcony or perch on the railings.
“We acknowledge each other and keep out of each other’s hair.”
Paasche posted a snap of a pair of the animals sitting on her veranda after dark, looking like a couple of exotic Egyptian statuettes.
She said she had posted the photograph to highlight and celebrate the diversity of wildlife in the valley.
“For me it’s about education and conservation. We’re sharing our very fragile environment with some other amazing creatures and it’s so nice when they come to visit.”
The genets were skittish and darted off when unfamiliar humans visited but were familiar with her and even crept close enough on occasion to sniff her foot, she said.
“They always arrive sometime between sunset and sunrise. There are about eight individuals that visit at different times through the year.
“I can tell them apart by their markings. Although they all have the same spotted genet coat, each one is different, some darker, others silvery.”
Paasche said she had seen the genets eating birds’ eggs and catching a wide variety of insects, lizards, mice and frogs.
“They also like fruit. I’ve seen them eating figs and olives from the trees in my garden.”
Arnold Slabbert, founder of the non-profit organisation Wildline, confirmed that Paasche’s nocturnal visitors were large-spotted genets, distinguished by their blacktipped tails.
“You don’t see them much but they are common residents of the Baakens Valley, as opposed to the small-spotted genets which occurs in drier areas.”
The genet posed no threat to people or pets, except for poultry or pigeons, he said.
Although the species is shy, it has adapted well to living in close proximity to human habitation where it preys on rats and even sleeps in the roofs of houses,
“Sadly, because it goes for rats, it is sometimes killed by secondary poisoning after eating rats that have ingested poison put down by people.
“It also eats birds – and especially loves bananas.”
Although large-spotted genets were not reliant on the Baakens River itself for habitat or food, like otters they did need to drink so sewage spills could force them to wander out of the valley looking for water, he said.
“But the biggest pressure on them is from poachers with packs of dogs.”
Genets were highly intelligent and adaptable, he said.

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