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KENYAN JOURNAL.

In his latest entry, wildlife photographer and Big Cat Diary host Jonathan Scott introduces his pets, who live in fear of the regular trespassing leopard, and describes the lengths to which his neighbours go to protect their properties

The signs on the front gates of many houses in Nairobi warn: `Mbwa Khali' -- Swahili for fierce dog. Security is a hot topic for everyone these days and apart from bars and grilles, electric fences, watchmen and panic buttons, dogs are still popular as one way of trying to avoid a break-in. We have always had dogs -- cats too -- and despite the antipathy these species show for each other, our cats and dogs have always settled down to a workable relationship which at times borders on affection. Though it must be said the larger of our two cats, Gironimo, still feels the need once in a while to puff himself up and release an explosive spit and hiss to let canine colleagues know not to get carried away.

The three dogs are a bit of a mix -- a Labrador called Shadow and her cross-bred son Lobo and daughter Mara. We love our dogs but they are very much outdoor types and sleep on the verandah. When you approach some people's properties their dogs let them know you're arriving as soon as they hear a vehicle. They are also letting you know that you are unwelcome -- the kind of dogs that keep you inside the car until the owners come to the door.

Our dogs aren't like that, though they all have impressive barks -- particularly Lobo -- and at night they would certainly cause a stranger to think twice about taking a stroll through the garden. Yet having dogs doesn't always prevent you from being robbed. Someone can always throw a piece of poisoned meat over the fence. One hears stories of how robbers come armed with something smelling of lion or leopard to send even the bravest dogs running in the opposite direction.

Our dogs and cats have so far survived the leopard that sometimes passes through our property, though a far bigger killer of dogs in Africa is tick disease. The dogs love to roam around our three-and-a-half-hectare plot, some of which is left wild, a mix of rock and aloes, thick bush and forest, and so it is a constant battle to keep the dogs tick-flee. However, the biggest killer of dogs is not another living thing but probably vehicles.

Last week Shadow was run over in our driveway. It was an accident that I find hard to forgive myself for and left us aching with the loss. Shadow was such a part of our home, having been with us since we moved here eight years ago. Angie and I have come to accept life and death in the wild; when a lion kills a zebra or a leopard snatches up an impala fawn we see it as part and parcel of the natural cycle. But Shadow's death reminded us that every animal is an individual and therefore irreplaceable. It is also what makes watching Africa's big cats so rewarding -- to become familiar with them, and recognise them for what they are; unique and beautiful forms of life.

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Title Annotation:Jonathan Scott, narrative
Author:Scott, Jonathan
Publication:Geographical
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Words:537
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