Chippie the ground squirrel
The first time I saw Chippie, she was tiny, and was sprinting up our cul de sac, pursued by the neighbour’s gardener.
Without thinking, I ran to her rescue, and only halted, feeling somewhat foolish, when I heard the gardener calling her Chippie and offering bread. Ah. An escaped pet.
Ground squirrels and meerkats are sometimes kept as pets in South Africa, but I’ve always been against keeping wild things. A few months later, I found her rustling about in a pile of newspapers in our garage (I thought at first that she was a rat).
I offered her a few raw peanuts, which she accepted with alacrity, holding them and twirling them about with her hands until all finished, much like a human eating corn. When she leaned up, opened my fingers and extracted more, I had to admit she was a truly charismatic little beast (apparently the males are much more troublesome).
She played havoc with the cats’ psyches by refusing to act like prey and by sneaking up behind them and biting their tails, laughter in her shiny black eyes
And after that, she was a shared squirrel. They called her Chippie, we called her Squirrr. She created a formidable network of burrows next door, here and all along the pavement. And she seemed very happy. She even had a fan club, including at least 2 large grown men who went all soft and gooey at the sight of her and came to visit her almost daily. I’d never imagined a squirrel could hold court like that.
She played havoc with the cats’ psyches by refusing to act like prey and by sneaking up behind them and biting their tails, laughter in her shiny black eyes. To elicit play from a human she’d hurtle up, bite a toe and dart off, hoping to be chased, her tail jinking left and right.
But eventually the neighbours and I agreed that she should be living in the wild, especially after she was once squirrel-napped. We approached Hester Steynberg at Ganora Guestfarm near Nieu Bethesda. She rehabilitates meerkats, so we figured it would be a good place. And it was.
With Hester’s support, Chippie gradually wilded herself, still returning to the back door when hungry, but less and less. She met a male, fell pregnant, dumped him and raised her first 3 babies on her own. The next year she did the same again, and started a little ground squirrel empire neatly between a line of walnut trees and a field of lucerne – her idea of heaven.
In February 2011, I got a phone call from a tearful Hester. There had been massive flash floods and there was no sign of Squirrie. Missing, believed dead. I shed tears for that little creature. I used to call her my Wishus Rodent. I’ve now accepted she is probably dead. Almost certainly. But I don’t regret taking her to Hester for a second. She lived a good life, did Chippie. Long live Squirr.
She’ll never be forgotten. And maybe somewhere she or 1 of her babies lived on.