BOOKS: Kalahari Dream by Chris Mercer & Bev Pervan
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2012:
Kalahari Dream by Chris Mercer & Bev Pervan
Paperback: <http://amzn.to/vLHjhv>. Download for Kindle:
Download for iPad and all other eReaders: <http://bit.ly/sFM2Wb>.
302 pages, including 100 photos. $9.99.
On an overnight stay in Kuruman, South Africa, deep in the
Kalahari desert, wildlife enthusiasts Chris Mercer and his wife Bev
Pervan asked about land for sale. Purchasing a rundown 1,500-acre
farm, in 1998 they opened the Kalahari Raptor Centre, the first
wildlife rehabilitation center in the Northern Cape Province.
Mercer, a former attorney who turned to farming before
taking up wildlife rehab, describes the huge renovation project that
they undertook to start the project as prolonged chaos, but “The
transformation from the tired, degraded farm we had bought, to the
luscious, rich parkland we now owned, was quite extraordinary,” he
writes. “It was rather like buying an old tin mug at an auction,
and then finding out that it was made of pure gold.”
After completion Mercer and Pervan met a veterinarian who was
moving to Britain. They offered to house all of his captive birds,
the first occupants in their new center, but permits were required.
They had no idea what was ahead.
Their often contentious relationship with South African
provincial wildlife officials continued with permits to bring in
injured or sick animals often being denied or withheld without
explanation. Permits which should have been valid for the lives of
animals who could not be released were sometimes issued for only
three months. This resulted in extra costs for the rehab center and
sometimes in lost lives.
Pervan persisted, however, to build bridges with wildlife
officials, reporting the arrival of any bird or animal punctually,
and taking time to phone and ask for advice.
“The policy-makers were hostile but on a personal level, she
made connections to benefit the rehab center,” recalls Mercer.
The book describes in exquisite detail the caracals,
meerkats, antelopes, and raptors whom they nursed back to health
and returned to the wild. The caracals, who by law were previously
killed as livestock predators, were released only after a legal
battle that went to the South African Supreme Court.
Remembers Pervan of a caracal release, “We watched the first
one out. Poozer walked out quietly and calmly, not running, just
looking around curiously. She stopped at the water trough, sniffed
at it, but did not drink. She looked back, then very slowly and
quietly walked off to start a new life. All that remained of her
presence were our memories and footprints in the sand. It was a
magical moment and one I will never forget.”
The Kalahari desert, rich in animal and plant life, at least
for now, covers nearly all of Botswana and parts of South Africa and
Namibia. But the habitat is stressed by climate change, a growing
human population, and mismanagement. Mercer and Pervan set up an
education center for local school children to teach about kindness to
animals and respect for the environment.
The Kalahari Raptor Centre continues, but Mercer and Pervan
in 2004 reluctantly turned it over to new management, retiring due
to age and injuries. –Debra J. White