Rats, bees & barn owls

11 11 2006

The African bee is a totally different lady from her European sister. She is a real kick-ass, don’t mess with me, all-or-nothing woman (the male drones don’t sting). They could use a few of these ladies in Iraq.


Some year ago when I was flower farming near Lion’s Den on the Kariba road, my landlord, Mike Wilson, recounted a story of a bee swarm in their garden that had got too big for the branch to which it was attached and the whole lot had fallen into the yard one afternoon. Unfortunately there was a flock of geese under where the swarm had been and the bees, now very angry set upon the geese. Once they start stinging they give off a smell that starts the other bees stinging and it all gets out of hand very quickly. Mike told me that he looked out of the kitchen window and all he could see of the gander was an outline of bees. The flock was wiped out. This “going mad” behaviors was uppermost in my mind as I beat a very hasty retreat from the lounge at lunchtime, bees boiling out of the fireplace, bent on stinging SOMETHING!


A rat had moved into my hi-fi cabinet and had made an appalling mess, pee and dung all over the place and it stank! Having moved all the hi-fi out and swept up what I could I decided to give the whole thing a wipe with some carbolic based disinfectant, Dettol by trade name. I had been warned that bees hated the smell of the stuff but had forgotten all about them. After all, this particular swarm has been living in the chimney, a favourite site in Zimbabwean houses, for some 2 years. Surely they were used to me by now and aside from the odd sting we’d got on OK. How wrong I was. Fortunately my pickup truck was parked outside the back door so I made a bee line (sorry, irresistible) for it and sweated in the November heat while the bees flew angrily at the windscreen. I waited for the excitement to die down a bit then went back into the kitchen to wash my hands of the Dettol smell. It was not a wise idea. Within seconds of me entering the house they were onto me though I made it to the truck again without getting stung. It was time to retreat to the garage where I could at least get on with the myriad projects I always seem to have on the go. It was 3 hours later before I could get back into the house without attracting their attention. I even did a circuit of the house in the pickup just to check things out. Jenni, my Rhodesian Ridgeback thought it was a great time to go for a run until the bees chased her!


Bees are not the only wildlife that I’ve had come out of the chimney, but they are certainly the most aggressive. About a year ago I was sitting in the lounge reading a book when I heard a scrabbling from the fireplace. Damn. It had to be those rats again. I thought I’d manage to kill them off after they got into the washing machine and chewed holes in the pipes. Try as I might I could not see any rats, obviously they were keeping quiet when I approached the fireplace. The next 2 nights I went out but on the third night I was once again reading and the scrabbling started again. This time I realized that it was coming from above the fireplace, where the chimney flares out into the metal grate. Getting a torch I looked up and there were some striped tail feathers. It could only be an owl. Now what? If I put my hand up one side of the flue it would move to the other and it was too far up to put both my hands up. Looking at the fireplace I realized there was a metal flap that could come off so getting the right sized spanner I set about taking it apart. I could now see the owl peering down at me but if I tried to grab it I was sure it would panic and get injured. Well, maybe I should just move away and see what happened. Sure enough after a couple of minutes there was a clatter, a “fwump” and a very sooty, blinking barn owl appeared in front of the grate. I’d taken the precaution of turning off most of the room lights but it still blinked at me owlishly (oops, another pun) and took off around the room. Fwap, it hit the wall above the door and left a spread-eagled owl imprint in pure soot above the lintel (hey, we DO get a spotted eagle-owl here so would that have been a spread-eagled-owl imprint?). I approached cautiously with my shirt to try and trap it but it took off and left another imprint on the opposite wall. Then it landed on a chair. Ah, now I had it! But hardly had the shirt settled when it was off again. Clearly another tactic was required. I opened all the windows and doors in both the lounge and adjoining room and moved behind it. It worked perfectly. The owl flew into the dining room and landed on the floor. It took a few steps to the base of the outside door and paused. It looked back once with big yellow eyes and took off silently into the garden. It flew low over the lawn and disappeared into the bush. I was concerned that all the soot on its feathers might impede its flight but it did not seem to and besides, a fair amount of the soot was left on the walls of the lounge.


There are a number of spotted eagle owls that seem to hang around my garden. They hoot and screech at each other. They are such beautiful birds and I am very pleased to have them around so it was with great sadness that I found a dead one by the road on the farm where I live. I’d been out exercising Jenni and spotted it lying on the grass. I can only think it flew into the power line because it was too small to have shorted itself out on the wires, though I have seen that happen on two occasions on other lines.


Owls are regarded with great superstition by the locals in Zim. They are apparently harbingers of death! Some time ago we were up at one of our paragliding sites on the Zambezi Valley (see www.paragliding.co.zw) and I asked the village elder at the nearby kraal why he was cutting the branches off the only tree on top of the hill. Oh, he said, it was the owl that kept sitting there; it needed to be chased off. Eventually the entire tree was cut down and the highest point on the hill was a hut. I have not been back for a long time so cannot vouch for it not being struck by lightening but if it is I’m sure the owl will be blamed!



2 responses

11 11 2006
Matt C

Quite a hoot! The most we have to contend with is a few possums, raccoons, coyotes and a very occasional Bobcat.

10 05 2015
The bees are back | Zimbabwe Absurdity

[…] the bees have never left. They have been around almost continuously ever since my first post “Rats, bees & barn owls” some 9 years ago. We have pretty much tolerated each other since then but I had to do […]

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