One of my great pleasures, on my morning walks, is observing wildlife, and occasionally meeting with them face to face. Living in a suburb on the very edge of Jerusalem, I have more meetings with animals than I did years ago, when I lived pretty much in the center of town. There are numerous reptiles, and small mammals, and of course, many birds. There are a great variety of birds in Israel, because aside from our local residents, there are many exotic birds who visit us as they fly to and fro, from Africa to Europe in the summer, and then back to Africa as winter approaches. And strangely enough, it seems there are more birds in the center of town than in the suburbs. One of their favorite hang outs is in the vicinity of the Bikur Holim hospital, right in the center of the city.
More often than not, I don’t know the English names of the animals I meet. And when I look them up in the dictionary, I find names that no one has ever heard of. And this is particularly true of an animal I wish to tell you about today. The rock badger is a very common animal in Israel, and is found across central and southern Africa as well. In our country, they are considered similar to a rabbit, and rabbits are often called by the same name. but in studying them, I discovered that they’re not of the same family, and not even distantly related. In fact, the only animals they are related to biologically, are elephants and sea cows. They are light brown in color, about 40 to 50 cm in length, and weigh about 4 kg. In our country, they are known as the most timid of all animals, and they’re noted in our culture for being wise.
It’s because they’re so shy, that I’ve been drawn to them. When I was young, they were always afraid of me, and used to scamper away as soon as I saw them, perhaps because I was often accompanied by my children or cats when out walking in nature. But in recent years I’ve had repeated meetings with them, and some of these meetings have been very pleasant. I’ve sat with them for 15 and 20 minutes at a time, and even had the questionable pleasure of having them talk to me. I say questionable pleasure because I didn’t understand them at all. But last week I sat with one of them for quite a while, and neither of us talked. And only after some time had passed, I took his picture, for in the past, opening my camera usually caused the badger to leave my company.
These animals live in groups from 10 to forty in number. They choose to live among boulders and rocks, and post sentries who give an alarm when seeing animals or humans who might threaten the group. Though famous for rock climbing, I have seen them climb trees with great agility. It is said, though, that they spend most of their time resting. What is interesting about them, is that they have many different vocal calls, sometimes referred to as ‘songs’, and one gets the impression that they have some sort of language based on different tones. They can be quite talkative when among their own, and not bothered by other animals. On rare occasions, I’ve met with two or three at a time. Usually, with one coming forward to meet me, and the others watching from behind. But most of the time it was one on one. Up until recently, I had met with them in their natural habitat, usually in a small forest close to my home. But last week, I spied one fellow in the park. And when I sat down and waited patiently, he came up close.