07 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Turtle Diary

Kian Barker, a lean, intense fellow with dark hair and beetling brows, drives an immensely long Landrover with Vivaldi on the sound system.

“Turtles love classical music,” he joked.

On warm summer nights Kian, based in St Lucia, runs his Shakabarker tours into iSimangaliso Wetland Park to see turtles laying eggs.

It was 10.30 pm, and the tide was ebbing. Within five minutes, we’d driven over the tracks of a loggerhead turtle. She must have just come in.

It was most touching to see how solicitous Kian was with her, like a protective mid-wife. We could only approach once she’d gone into an “egg trance”.

“I call it a genetic epidural. Nature just switches off the senses, and instinct takes over. It’s a bit like an old Windows 92 programme. One action ends, there’s a couple of minutes break, and the next one starts. Always the same, always very slow.”

Eventually she was ready for us, digging an egg chamber in a mechanical stupor.  Kian estimated her age at 20 years - midway through her life, weighing 90 kg.

Once she’d finished carefully rounded off the hole she’d dug, there was a pause. “The next programme is clicking in,” said Kian. She reversed backwards slightly, and started laying eggs. They were like rubbery ping-pong balls, coming out quickly in sets of two, three or five. Her tired beaked head rested on a cushion of sand, eyes weeping protective tears.

I felt a bit like crying myself - there was something so touching being witness to this secret ceremony, millions of years old.

In a few months, her eggs would hatch. Only 1% of the tiny turtles would survive. Decades from now, her daughters would return to this exact spot. Life goes on…

Category: Wildlife

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