Day Seven in Duk Payuel—The Baby Antelope

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Now I have a baby antelope. I didn’t go looking for her. I came here to help orphans—the two-legged variety, not four-legged with hooves. She is within our target group because she’s a female, determined by Peter, the nutritionist, who was bold enough to feel around.
Hunters found her nestled in some grass, picked her up and carried her to the compound. They said they didn’t shoot the mother. Antelopes are protected in Sudan. Perhaps the mother had left her to graze and returned to find her missing. Or the mother may have been killed by the lion spotted near the village a few days ago. Life is harsh in the bush.
A thin rope, about four feet long, was tied around her neck. They tied the other end  to a tree, but she pulled and bucked, and I feared she’d strangle. Then they moved the rope to a leg. Again, pulling struggling, yanking the leg. I didn’t think it was my place to interfere. Finally she gave up and settled down. She’s tiny—less than 10 pounds, maybe 18 inches high. We figure she’s only a couple of weeks old. When I checked on her a half hour later, I could see her leg was starting to swell from the tightrope. Then someone tried tying her around her hips. That was a disaster. She jumped and fell on her side. And again, and again. Some of the tin forms for the concrete bases of the tent poles are still in place—a real hazard—and one of them was in jumping distance. I feared she’d land on it, so I took the rope off and took her into my tent where she lay on the bed with me, curled up. Then she got interested in looking out the window and slipped off the bed, between the frame and the tent wall. It didn’t seem to phase her. I coaxed her out, and she crawled into a corner and curled up on the floor.
While she slept, I sought food for her. The hot milk was still out for breakfast. I asked the clinic for a bottle but the closest they had was a 3/4 inch diameter syringe with tiny spout and a squeeze bottle to fill it from. I fill the bottle and insert the syringe, which fits in and seals the opening, then draw the milk up into the syringe. The milk was still boiling hot. It takes awhile for me to sip from the cup in the morning because it’s steaming. I let it cool and then set about the business of feeding her.
She didn’t like having the big hard plastic syringe shoved into her tiny, narrow snout. The trick is to stick my index finger in the side of her mouth where she has no teeth. This pops her mouth open, revealing a row of tiny teeth in the front of her mouth. In the back she has molars, which sound like rock on rock when she grinds them. I’ve tried putting the syringe straight in, and sideways. Sometimes she accepts it in far enough that she drinks a few gulps, but other times she shakes her head and pops the hateful object out of her mouth, shaking and dripping milk all over herself and me. She struggled on my lap, fighting the awkward thing, which didn’t allow for sucking. It was hard to know the proper pressure to push the plunger—too fast, too much milk. But she jerked her head away every few seconds, and reinserting was an unpleasant process for both of us. I think I got about as much milk on me as in her mouth.
Rebecca thought she should have 500 ml per day. That would be 50 syringes. I got three 10 ml syringes into her the first day. I couldn’t imagine torturing her through 50. Caroline thought maybe 100 ml would do. So that’s my goal for tomorrow. But the cooks weren’t going to supply me with milk—they make it up only in the morning. So Sammy gave me a can of the powdered milk. This is what we’ve been drinking every morning—full butterfat powdered milk. Hot. No wonder it tasted so good. Add a little Nescafe or pour the milk that already has tea mixed in.
Though the baby didn’t like the process, feeding her apparently qualified me to be her new mom, and she began following me wherever I went, curling up and sleeping if I stopped for a bit. People asked me what her name was. I had considered naming her, but that seemed like claiming her, and I thought someone would come and take her, or, I don’t know. There didn’t seem to be a plan for her. I certainly didn’t think she’d become my pet. I pondered names—a Sudanese name? An American pet name? I studied her and it came to me—Lashes. Have you ever seen an antelope’s eyes up close? The lashes are jet black against her light fur and an inch long, top and bottom. She sounds like a child’ toy, squeaking when she wants my attention, squeaking when I have gotten too far away walking—a signal for me to wait., though sometimes she gallops. But she’s a baby, and not all that great at navigating uneven terrain. On her first attempt to jump onto our concrete verandah, she missed. And she’s stumbled a couple times jumping down.
By Wednesday she was used to me, and I got 100 ml in her. On Thursday, 170. But I’ll only be here until the 26th. So then, who knows. Caroline, the nurse midwife, said she would take care of her, but she leaves for Kenya December 13. All the foreign staff is leaving until the referendum count is over, which probably won’t be until February.
So nature may take its course. I’d carry Lashes on the plane with me, but I imagine there’s some big time paperwork required for that! Jeremy Groce took his pets from the US to Kenya and back when he lived there working for Sudan Radio Services. But I don’t think exporting antelope is the same. She’s not much bigger than a puppy. Maybe she could pass. But what would I do with her at hotels in Nairobi, Nakuru, and Eldoret? I’m sure she’ll be unhappy when I disappear, but she adapted in a day to the lost of her actual mother, which must have been much worse. She often nuzzles me as though there might be a teat under my knee or in my elbow. Then licks my legs or arms, licks my fingers and toes. Her tongue is very soft. Though by Thursday, she got a little more independent—would hang out outside the tent when I left to shower or go to the clinic computer center. She likes hanging around the latrine area—tall grass for grazing and curling up in. I usually check her out after a while. The compound is fenced, so she can’t get lost, and dogs and other animals that might hurt her can’t get in. I’ve learned to be careful picking her up when she is supposed to be following, but is simply standing still. Sometimes she’s urinating. I’ve been peed on three times, which I notice by the warm, wet feeling on my hip. You can’t tell—she’s noiseless and doesn’t squat. There’s always a chance she was excited, or letting me know she didn’t want to be picked up. I don’t know much about antelopes.
The first night she slept on my bed. I took her out twice during the night when she woke. But one time I was too late. She stood on the bed, and I didn’t know the was urinating until I felt the wet creeping toward me. I changed my bed, my bedding (thank goodness I brought a sleep sack), and flipped the foam mattress. It seemed none the worse for wear in the morning. Doesn’t seem to smell. But as soon as we have a sunny day, I’ll bring it outside to air out.
Since then, I put a little sleep sack on the floor at the head of my bed. She curls up there. The second night she squeaked twice and I put my hand through the headboard slats and stroked her. Last night, not a peep. And this morning, she really didn’t want to get up.
Joh Deng, the clinic manager, assured me that he would find someone to take care of Lashes, so I could see how big she was by March.
deb dawson  

One response to “Day Seven in Duk Payuel—The Baby Antelope

  1. Deb, This story of the baby antelope is so you! I loved it. Am halfway through the blog now and am fascinated by your experiences. Thinking of you daily and keeping you and your mission in my prayers, Love, Jane

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