The call of the mild – of mice, men and tiny claws in the Tygerberg Nature Reserve

The call of the mild – of mice, men and tiny claws in the Tygerberg Nature Reserve
A park bench in the Tygerberg Nature Reserve, which lies in Cape Town’s northern suburbs. Photo: Larry Dolley

It’s a wonderful and scenic place to have on one’s doorstep, but be prepared for hills that are steep and alive with some truly scary creatures.

You may know that I live in Cape Town. It could be considered the toepiece of Africa, named after its geographical position on the continent. It is a part of South Africa with unique geographical and botanical diversity, well suited to exploring on foot or other non-motorised forms of transport. I am fortunate to live close to some of these natural attractions.

As we all know, Africa in its deepest and darkest form has all sorts of denizens creeping and lurking around, waiting to make you their next meal. This sadly includes criminals wishing to relieve you of the weight of your wallet or cellphone.

A friend and I decided to take a brisk walk in the fresh air of the Tygerberg Nature Reserve, which is traditionally defined as being behind the “boerewors curtain” in suburban terms (see footnote for a description of this quaint term).

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We live under the slopes of this hill and are subject to its influence on the microclimate of our suburb, Parow.

Sadly, the greater Cape Town area sometimes has more than its fair share of criminal activity. Sadder still, this share is proportionally weighted towards poorer communities and suburbs. But in a nature reserve?

Highly threatened Swartland Shale Renosterveld in the reserve. (Photo: Wikipedia)

I mean, c’mon, I’m a product of Gqeberha. More specifically, Parkside, yon hill of debt after the Group Areas Act forced us out of South End.

Me, subject to crime without recourse to justice or the old knuckle duster treatment as defence? Really? I mixed with ruffians in the form of people by the surname of (and here I use noms de plume) Messteker, Clovenhoof and Viskopsuiger! I roughed it with the best. Tough as nails. Yet nothing could prepare me for the travails of a tramp in what was essentially my backyard.

We, as law-abiding gangsters, paid our entry fee with a buttered cheque and started walking. I do suspect that my friend had a role to play in the eventual incident by way of softening me up. We immediately hit a sho’t left downhill followed by an uphill. These things, hills and friends, usually happen in pairs.

At this point, aerobic physiology gave way to the anaerobic sort, the type that makes you start puffing like Thomas the Tank Engine up an incline.  

The scenery was beautiful and the vegetation of a verdant nature long last seen. However, said puffing made one a tad blind to the visual feast on offer.

When we arrived at the top of a peak somewhat akin to the tallness of the Matterhorn (or Eiger or suchlike), we rested Thomas (me) on a park bench to belch steam and other bodily gases in preparation for further assaults on the trail ahead.

Tygerberg Nature Reserve

Larry Dolley hikes in the Tygerberg Nature
Reserve. (Photo: Supplied)

At this point, I must tell you that I walk in sandals as opposed to big, tough hiking boots. Because I’m tough. So, there were my winter-white, spindly legs hanging off the bench when the attack took place.

Now, my friend is a tallish, big guy who would brook no nonsense from kabouters (trolls). But even he got a fright when I jumped up with a loud, girlish scream. Something (or someone) had grabbed hold of my lower ankle and attempted to either make love to it or generally give me a hug bite of sorts.

Again, being a tough sort and always paraat (ready), I jumped up and tried to flee. However, seeing a few ladies approaching, I immediately turned around to address the scoundrel attacking me, obviously expecting to win Voyager Miles in the eyes of said ladies.

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There, staring rather malevolently at me, was a fat field mouse, with scrapings of skin cells on his tiny yet sharp claws.

I combined two immediate responses to it: I jumped further back with a weak flex of my sphincter while squealing comfortingly at it, as if to soothe its own shattered nerves.

I think I failed in scoring miles.

Oh, to be a field mouse

For the rest of the walk we saw many of these well-fed rodents impudently walking across our path in full view. Almost as if to say, “yeah, right, you wimp, bring it on”.

In all seriousness, the reserve is green with spring in the air. Lots of seed is available, as well as water. There are numerous trails to be walked, making it suitable for all levels of fitness. It is also well signposted, but do yourself a favour and don’t try pressing what look like digital buttons on the signboards. They don’t work. Use your mapping skills.

A historical landmark on the Tygerberg Hills is the Kristo Pienaar Environmental Education Centre in the nature reserve. (Photo: Supplied)

The City of Cape Town has an instructive website in terms of the many different species of organisms on this small patch of land.

What I wouldn’t do to be a field mouse in times such as these. Except for the numerous species of birds hovering in the air who would be watching little mouseling me.

Meet me there every Saturday morning when the weather allows.

Footnote: The “boerewors curtain” is a social construct related to where people in Cape Town live – an imaginary dividing line between the Afrikaans-speaking northern suburbs and the English-speaking southern parts. Similarly, in Gauteng, when you cross the Jukskei River going from Johannesburg to Pretoria, you’ve crossed the boerewors curtain. It’s the softer version of the Iron Curtain. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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