ON THE RUN AFTER TASTY SNAILS By Deborah Painter

 

 

I work all day in the vineyards. People say they love to see me march off to work each day in winter with my fellow workers.  In fact, human beings give money to other human beings hereto eat their lunches outdoors so they can see me leave my pen and go to work!!   Can you imagine?  But that’s life for me and my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers, nephews, brothers, grandfathers, nieces and sisters.  I have been told that there are 1,100 of us all going off to work in the Vergenoegd Wine Estate vineyards at one time.  I can’t count so I don’t know what 1,100 means, but I have been told it is quite a lot.  Someone told me that my breed used to be called penguin ducks because we look like penguins.  I don’t know what a penguin looks like. All I know is that they are birds, just like I’m a bird, and they live on beaches somewhere over an hour’s drive away by truck.  I have been in one of those once, so I do know what it is.  I’m not sure what an hour is but it is probably quite a lot.

Abie Opperman makes sure we go where we are supposed to go. Photos: Vergenoegd Wine Estate

You ask what my work is that keeps me busy all day.   I catch and eat dune snails and their eggs.  I love these best.  I also eat mosquitoes, mealy bugs, grasshoppers and slugs.  These slugs can cause diseases and the humans are very glad to see me and my cousins, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, nieces and nephews eat them.  They say it is good for the grapes that grow there.  We all go on holiday at the dam area of the estate after we are done eating all the snails and other pests and before the harvest of the grapes takes place.  I have heard that the people who tend these plants are afraid we will eat the grapes. They say that we are part of an eco-programme here at the Vergenoegd Wine Estate.  Our waste is used for fertilizer and our work reduces the need for pesticide chemicals.  People who do work for the environment got interested in our farm dam when the people who care for it talked to them.  The Table Mountain Fund, Birdlife South Africa, The Department of Agriculture’s Land Care Programme, Cape Nature, and the World Wildlife Fund Biodiversity and Wine Initiative got together.  The area around the farm dam used to be really boring because it had very few plants and the water was not very clean.  Water birds did not care to stay there.  The groups built floating plant islands. Now many fish and birds are staying there and having babies too.   I enjoy going to the dam to relax.  The only birds by the dam that I DO NOT LIKE are the tan geese with the brown rings around their eyes.  They attack us.  So I stay close to my sisters, brothers, grandmothers, cousins and et cetera and eat the insects by the dam.  After holiday I am back at work again!

I’m the good looking solid brown one with his mouth open, Mealybugs are a problem for the humans, but to us they are good food! Photos: Vergenoegd Wine Estate quacking. Photos: Vergenoegd Wine Estate

I also like to eat grain, which we all get fed at night when we go back to our pens.  I like being back at the pen when it is dark.  When night comes we think we hear snakes in the bushes outside our pens. I sometimes hear owls hooting.  It is a scary sound because I know they want to eat me! I feel safe in the pen until dawn.  I want to sleep so I can get up and eat the next day.

 

Suggestions for Further Reading

 

Simons, Phillida Brooke.  2000.  Cape Dutch Homes and Other Old Favourites. Fernwood Press 256 pages.