Zandvlei Trust

Baby Dragons in our Garden   (Extract article from the volume 2006/1 Newsletter)

16 pairs of eyes swivel round and stare straight into mine. They hold the light of forty million years of their ancestors, yet are only a few hours old. Baby dragons in our garden. Still sticky from their sacs, little feet gripping the twigs, sweet spiral tails. They darken and flatten their tiny patterned bodies to soak in the morning sun, to warm them for their first hunt. One turns to focus on a faraway fruit-fly. It takes a slow step or two closer, and shhhooootts its long tongue out. The tongue is longer than its whole body and tail, and as fast as fire. It chews its first prey.

Ma Bushy
They are Ma Bushy's babies. Ma Bushy is the mother of all chameleons. The spirit of the Chamaeleontidae itself. The wise guardian of the leaking and evaporating gene pool. She is in a league of her own. She hunts mantises and shoots hover flies out of the sky. When it is berry season she moults and sheds a layer of white skin, and reappears the exact bright orange of the berries and dark green of the leaves.

Ma Bushy moulting

Although the females usually stay put, Ma Bushy tends to disappear. We have a song we dance to when she returns. It's a song from the 70's that goes "Yeah yeah yeah, Ma Bushy's back!" (Well they are actually singing 'my boyfriend's back' but we sing loudly over that bit). Bowen and I dance around in glee, our hands pinched 2 fingers on one side, and 3 on the other to look like the two-toed grips of the chameleons; our bodies doing those slow jerks back and forth as we move forward, like a leaf in the wind; our eyes rolling in wide circles, and our tongues shooting out like lightning.

Ma Bushy had been gone for months, and we were quietly giving up on her. Then she appeared huge and splendid. We danced last night. And the next morning she is gone. Leaving her babies with us.

Ma Bushy basking in the morning sun.

The Caretakers
Why did she come back to our front garden? Maybe it is because there is fencing and netting to keep the cats and birds out, piles of fruit and compost to breed flies and fruit flies, a mirror positioned to reflect early morning sun onto the teenagers that hang out in the shadow of the house. And a tall man with soft eyes and warm hands, who checks on each of them every day, unwraps those caught in a web of the spider, mourns those that die; and loves them in a way only a forty million year old creature can appreciate.

Little dragons, at threat from the cats and the birds, the insecticides, the walls, the roads and the bulldozing and shrinking of their home, the fynbos flats and wetlands. They could do with a little extra support.

Sally Andrews and Bowen Bossier


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