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Release of our waterbuck, Pacou

Marie Bauvin

DAKTARI – There are some days that we remember and cherish for a long time, and the 14th of January was one of them. But let us tell you the story from the beginning.

Pacou was an orphan waterbuck that was brought to us in early April 2019. We immediately fell in love with his little cute face, his heart-shaped nose and his fluffy grey coat.

Michele, the co-founder of DAKTARI, and our animal assistant Clement immediately stepped in to take care of him. They bottle-fed him day and night and gave him the love and attention he never had, to make sure he was growing strong and happy.

After weaning him and making sure he was healthy, we decided to let him roam free on our farm. As we do not have other waterbuck, Pacou started following our two sheep, and they soon became best friends, playing and eating together.

Pacou was growing, getting more and more independent, and also very friendly towards people and dogs, following us when we walked around camp. He had no intention to hurt anybody and was just being very playful and getting very close to people and our dogs. Even if it was cute and funny, it may also become a dangerous and threatening behaviour, as his horns were growing quickly and they can reach 100cm at adult size!

The recent rains have also begun to restore the bush to its summertime state, turning it a vibrant green colour with flourishing trees. The abundance of food made it a perfect time to release Pacou under the best possible conditions.

Although this was not an easy decision to make, we decided to do what was in Pacou’s best interests and release him on the next-door farm, Tangata Game Ranch, so he can join a herd and even find a girlfriend!

Michele had developed a very special bond with Pacou over the past few months, and it is very natural that, the evening before releasing him, she communicated with him in their own special way. She tried to explain to him what was going to happen the next day and what his future will look like. We cannot confirm if it actually worked, but what we noticed for sure is that Pacou was very confident and comfortable during the whole process of releasing him.

On the 14th of January 2020, a group of volunteers led by Michele and her dogs, walked all the way from DAKTARI to Tangata, in the early morning to avoid the summer heat. As Pacou was used to follow people, it was very easy and he was on the land of our neighbours in the blink of an eye! But then if we would have decided to walk back, he would have followed us back to DAKTARI…

We then chose to jump into the back of a bakkie, driven by Sam from Tangata, hoping that Pacou would follow us to the nearest waterhole. After a few moments of hesitation, he recognized Michele’s voice that he knows since he was a baby, and finally followed the car!

When we reached the waterhole, we decided to carry on further down the reserve until we reached the sables’ camp. We passed the gate and immediately Pacou started sniffing around, smelling other animals’ presence. We kept driving slowly and all of a sudden, he was trotting beside us, soon to overtake us and stand in front of the car. Then, a few meters later he finally saw the sables and immediately took off and ran towards them. We could tell he was happy to have found a new home where he had some companionship. He took off without looking back, too busy to discover his new home and new friends.

Pacou will first stay a few weeks in this camp getting used to his new environment, as he has no idea of what a predator is and is still vulnerable. We will then let him go completely into the wild and wander through the whole reserve where he will eventually find the other waterbucks.

We could not have hoped for a smoother release. The goose bumps and tears in the eyes of Michele and the volunteers make this successful release a beautiful story to tell. It reminds us of DAKTARI’s purpose as a wildlife orphanage, and that we all share the same love and passion for animals.