Throughout our childhood we always had various pets come through our doors. Pets were good to teach us children to care and learn to be responsible. The one rule our parents had was that if we had a pet it was our responsibility to make sure they were fed. Even if they provided the food most of the time we had to make sure we fed them on time. Pets were also a currency to acquire toys from other kids and anything else that we needed to get as children, since money was just not available.
I am still in awe at my parents patience for all the pets we had! The list below is of the pets we ever kept at the house and they were the responsibility of my brother and I. I did not include chickens because they were not ours per se but belonged to my mother though we ha the responsibility of feeding them.
Yes that’s right we had a hawk once, a goshawk to be precise. We had always been fans of birds of prey and did science projects on the birds. We used to go bird hunting and spotting. Our friends knew our passion for birds of prey. So we were over the moon when our of friends brought us a little fledgling. Then it was fluffy, but it was too big to be a falcon or a kestrel so we knew we had a fairly big bird of prey either a hawk or an eagle. He said it fell out of the nest. One of the legs was broken so it sounded credible enough. Either way we were happy to own a hawk!. We nursed it until the leg healed though it was slightly deformed. Months went by and we had big plans of how we would train it to hunt. We fed it minced meat, and it recognised us and would shriek hysterically when it heard our voices at the door when we came back from school. One day we came back from school and we were told it was dead, that it had choked on some food. It was painful and we never got another opportunity with these beautiful birds
So we had to settle for sparrows! These were much easier to catch and feed and were in abundant supply! We caught these sparrows with trap cages. A wire mesh cage with a spring door and trigger. When the bird takes the bait it is flung inside. Later we developed a more advanced cage with a section for keeping a bird to attract the others. The real prize was the male sparrow. These were extremely intelligent. We called them Black Khora because of the black band on their neck and chest. A kora was worth two females!
We used to have white rats with pink eyes. We took them to school inside our jerseys. They lived together fine with our cats. No Tom and Gerry scenarios in our house. The grey rats however were the evil cousins, they were pests and were not welcome. We had an unofficial extermination crew in our neighbourhood. We took pleasure in being summoned to take care of the rat problem within our neighbourhood. We were armed with clubs and all we required from the client was a pot of boiling water which we used to flush the rats out of their lairs. Once they came out then we would club them. Sometimes we would find a nest of very young rats and we would keep them for a while but they really weren’t welcome, they would bolt at the earliest opportunity.
Guinea pigs were very noisy and always wanted to eat. They were also prolific breeders. We would swap and sell them when they became overcrowded. Finding food for them was always a mission in winter but in summer it was much better after the rains. Thanks to their constant shrieking they invited a huge spitting cobra into the run. We noticed this after we found two dead chickens. Then we saw this 2 metre long beast and the whole hood gathered to take it down. It was ignited by a bottle of petrol and died in a blaze.
We also had rabbits which were also a delicacy but none of our family members ever ate rabbit. I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the pets! But we would sell them and swap them.
Mans best friend of all the pets we had was the real companion. We used to have a terrier type dog called Bokkie, which was very playful, and very suitable for us while we were younger. Then the last dog we had was a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Boxer. It was a beautiful, obedient dog which was able to catch hares all by itself. It used to chase the postman and another motorcycle that went past our house. No dogs in the hood could mess with it and it never attacked pedestrians. But one fateful day it came back home with a big gash on the neck which we suspected was from a machete blow. A few days later it passed away. That was the only pet I ever shed a tear for!
In primary school there was a a pond and there used to be guppies and goldfish. The guppies used to be sold so we would buy a few and keep them in a big jar. We also used to fish in the river (Nyamauri River) that flowed through out the whole year. We used nets (kukukuzva) to catch them then we would put them in a big dish, changing the water regularly. But after a few weeks only the catfish would remain, they would also eat the smaller fish.
I absolutely loved tadpoles. They were fascinating. I spent hours watching them suck on the glass and when you dipped your finger inside the water they would suck on your fingers. The most spectacular thing about them was watching them metamorphosise into frogs! First with just the hind legs, then the front legs would follow, with the tail falling off last. Then we would release them back into the ponds where we took them.
There was a silkworm craze, where we all got silkworms to nurture from school. We kept them in boxes and fed them with mulberry leaves. It was a joy to watch them grow and retreat into their cocoons and eventually metamorphosise into moths. These moths would lay eggs and then fly away.
These had to be the divas of all pets! We had lots of cats and they were the only pets allowed in the house together with the white rats and the guppies. Cats were smart and basically ruled! A cat does what it wants when it feels like it. But I enjoyed the company of cats. There were times when we had to get rid of some cats and first time we tried this we drove it about two kilometres away and left it there. Two days later it was back home! Then we were advised that when you are dumping a cat you had to cover it in a sack then drop it off. When we tried this it never came back.
Some pets we tried to catch and domesticate like geckos and chameleons, much to the horror of some of our friends because there is a common superstition in Zimbabwe that if you are bitten by a chameleon it will not let go. You could only take it off by burning it with a cigarette butt. But we proved this to be false over and over again. They are harmless and even the bite is ticklish and doesn’t even penetrate the skin. We had at least sixty percent of all these pets listed above at the same time. Where possible I think its important for all children growing up to have a pet to take care and enjoy the company.