Vetfaan’s Caracal

images (1)“How’s Vetfaan?” A worried frown wrinkles Kleinpiet’s brow. “It’s been…what?…three days now? Should be coming home soon, I hope.”

Boggel slides a beer over the counter with a sympathetic smile. Kleiniet hates drinking alone, and – to be honest – the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place certainly took a nosedive ever since the ambulance came to fetch the burly farmer.

“I phoned this morning, Kleinpiet. They’re sending him back today, but I don’t think he’ll be joining us for a drink for a while. His backside….”

Kleinpiet winces, nods, and swallows a mouthful of beer. “Poor chap. He shouldn’t have…”

***

The tragedy started when Vetfaan checked on his sheep two weeks ago. That’s when he found three of his best ewes missing. After a prolonged search of the area, he eventually  discovered the three carcasses close to each other with several bite marks on their necks.

“That was a lynx,” Servaas said when Vetfaan complained about it that night. “Nasty cats. they are. One of them gets amongst a flock of sheep, and they go crazy. Bite, bite, bite – that’s what they do. They don’t settle down for dinner after killing a single prey – for them it’s the joy of hunting and killing that does the trick. I know Ben Bitterbrak lost twenty sheep in a single night due to one of them.”

“Oh Servaas!” Gertruida’s irritation bubbled to the surface. “We don’t have any of the lynx species in Africa. I’ll have you know there are four subspecies of lynx: the Eurasian, Canadian, Iberian, and the North American Bobcat. Over here, we have the caracal – which is far more vicious than the lynx family. You should have known that.”

“Well, I’m going to shoot that bastard, no matter what you call it. I can’t afford to lose any more of my flock. Lamb season is almost here…” The grim expression on Vetfaan’s face hadn’t softened, despite the peach brandy.

Vetfaan returned to Boggel’s Place three days later, looking haggard and even grimmer. “That cat! Dammit, man – I wait for it here, and it kills over there. My farm is just too big for me to cover the whole area. And I can’t keep my sheep herded together every night – it’s impossible.” That, of course, is true. Farming with sheep in such an arid area means that the sheep have to graze over extensive tracts of land,

Kleinpiet then – two more rounds of peach brandy later – suggested that they establish COSATU – Caracal Observation, Strategy and Terminating Union. “We’ll all join you to eliminate that cat. We’ll start tonight.”

For the next four nights Boggel did no business – except for selling a few beers to the ladies of the town. Fortunately, the men had the foresight to stock up during the day – reminding each other of the desert chill at night. It’s not that they want to drink peach brandy during the vigil, it’s only to ward off the cold, understand?

Their strategy was simple: spreading out on the higher parts of the farm and armed with powerful spotlights and a variety of guns (Servaas insisting on the old Mauser his great-grandfather used in the war against the British), they waited. And waited. And felt the freezing wind. And partook – cautiously at first but later with considerable enthusiasm – of the peach brandy which they then dubbed ‘Antifreeze.”

Perhaps that’s why, on Night Four, Servaas accidently (so he claimed), discharged his gun, killing hundreds of completely innocent termites in a cat-shaped ant heap a hundred yards away. By then, the lack of sleep and the peach brandy had so fatigued the members of COSATU that they were reduced to mumbling idiots. The next day they discussed the issue, and created the New Union of Modern Stalking Activists – an entirely novel approach to the threat to Vetfaan’s sheep.

Perhaps a little explanation will help to understand what happened next. One must remember that the combination of peach brandy and sleep deprivation does not enhance intelligent thought. The plan formulated by the group in the bar that day, serves to emphasise that fact.

“You have to think like a caracal to catch a caracal.” Kleinpiet only slurred the words ever so slightly. “We’re thinking like real people here, and that won’t do. That cat has it’s own way – and last night he proved it by killing two more sheep while we were waiting at the wrong place.” (They had all fallen asleep, of course, but nobody thought it wise to correct Kleinpiet’s version of events.) “By now Vertfaan has lost ten sheep – if we don’t change our strategy, he’ll lose everything.

“We’ll stalk that cat. Follow it and then get rid of it. That’s the only way.”

This remark caused a lot of debate. Stalking a caracal would be impossible, Servaas observed. “So you think that cat is going to sit there, watching how a man with a gun sneaks up to it? They’re not that stupid.” He was right, they all agreed. Stalking had to be done subtly, cleverly.

And two more drinks later, it was Vetfaan who proposed The Plan.

“I’ve got it! We’ll do it the Bushman way.” He waited for everybody to fall silent before continuing. “Remember that movie by Jamie Uys? The Gods must be Crazy? In the second film he had this lady…” He couldn’t remember her name until Gertruida told him it was Lena Ferugia, who played the role of Dr. Ann Taylor. “Well, with a few bushes and a long stick, she fooled the ostriches to think she was one of them. That’s what we’ll do!”

“Okay. I get it.” Sarcasm dripped from Servaas’s remark. “We give you long ears and make you go meow, then that cat thinks you’re sexy. When he asks you out for a date, you grab him and stuff him into a bag. Hey, that’s so ingenious, can’t think why Gertruida didn’t suggest it hours ago.”

“Or maybe he’s a fast one and you get to have kittens!” Precilla asked for a tissue to wipe away the tears while she laughed.

“You can laugh if you want. I’ll show you.”

And Vetfaan did. He returned just before sunset with his sheep-suit. Well, it must be said that he made quite a good job of it. After stitching two sheep skins together, he draped it over his body and kept it in place with some webbing he still had from his army days. When he got down on all fours, he received a modest applause from the group in the bar.

“Nice job, Vetfaan.” Kleinpiet sniggered. “You’ll fool that cat, for sure. And hey, you don’t have to bother about the head at all. You look like a fine sheep just as you are.”

Vetfaan took that as a compliment, told them to wait up and drove off. No, he won’t need any help, thank you. He’s got a 9mm pistol and his camouflage. The cat was about to depart to kitty heaven…

***

“At least the caracal took off. I’ve checked on Vetfaan’s farm every day, and no more killing. He’ll be glad to hear that.”

“You can’t blame that poor cat, Kleinpiet.” Servaas has managed not to giggle every time they talk about Vetfaan’s misfortune. “Imagine his surprise?”

“Give the devil his due, Servaas. I don’ think even Vetfaan expected  that the caracal would be fooled so well. I mean, when he joined that flock in the darkness, baa-ing peacefully, he must have thought it was a long shot, too. And yet…”

“Ja, shame. And he didn’t even get a shot off, either.”

“Ag, come on, Servaas. If a vicious carnivore takes a bite out of your bum, it’s difficult to think about shooting. You only do running and screaming. You think the cat was surprised? I think his prey was completely thunderstruck!”

“Hey guys!” Precilla bumps open the door to Boggel’s Place. “The ambulance is on it’s way. Now, please, please don’t say anything about his bandages when he gets here. Let’s be nice…” She want’s to add ‘for a change’, but decides against it..

When Vetfaan limps from the ambulance, he heads straight for the bar. He is thirsty and in a bad mood. He doesn’t bat an eye when Servaas said he heard that somebody made a ewe-turn, and even ignored the time when Kleinpiet stepped aside to say ‘After ewe.”

But what gets his goat – in a manner of speaking – is when Servaas asks him about the way the caracal surprised him. “Didn’t you feel a bit sheepish”

Fortunately, the ambulance hasn’t left yet. The ambulance  man says it’s not serious; if Servaas keeps the ice-pack in place, that black eye will look much better tomorrow.

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