Dolls & bugs

Girls should not be deprived of interacting with nature and being exposed to fieldsports, writes Abré J Steyn.

Dolls & bugs
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Having been perforated by buffalo hooves, the bird pond was leaking and had to be drained for repair. With a shriek of delight, a small girl jumped into the remaining muddy water, because she’d seen a frog. She searched underwater until she got a proper grip on the unbelievably slippery creature and emerged filthy, but beaming and triumphant with her froggy prize clutched tightly in her fists. And it wasn’t just any frog – it was a platanna, and many people would be too squeamish to even touch it, let alone catch it.

But this little girl is not just any little girl. She’s my youngest granddaughter, Karien, the four-year-old city girl who has spent a substantial portion of her young life in the bush with us and has loved every minute of it. I could be wrong, but if she doesn’t change too much in years to come, we may be looking at a future wildlife biologist. She may even be her oupa’s successor, who knows? It would be ironic if that happens because my plans never included daughters.

I knew what I wanted in life and I never wanted girl children. To me, they were beautiful, as long as they belonged to someone else. They were too much trouble and too expensive to maintain. I only wanted boys. And without having any real control over it, my wish was granted. I had two sons, but by the time I found out my attitude was wrong, it was too late. With my sons it became quite clear to me that boys can cause you just as many sleepless nights as girls.

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None of the author’s granddaughters are scared of snakes. This is Danielle with a green spotted bush snake.

They not only turn the town on its head, but your entire budget too. Their toys, which they keep on breaking and you keep on replacing, are much more expensive than those of girls, and as they grow older, their mistakes don’t get any cheaper either.

Of my grandchildren – you guessed it – three are girls! And I know quite a bit about girls now. The most important can be summed up in six words – they are very different to us. Girls seem to have been born with an inbred maternal, nurturing instinct; a genetic need to play with dolls or cuddle something even before they are able to walk. Boys won’t give a doll a second glance, but things with wheels drive them crazy.

Introduce girls to nature
As fieldsportsmen we’re often guilty of thinking that little girls, the women and mothers of tomorrow, are too different to us to be exposed to the less friendly creatures of the bush. Neither do we think it necessary or worth our while to put too much effort into introducing them to the outdoor activities we cherish so much. This was the general attitude in previous generations and still persists widely today. It’s why ladies are seldom seen at shooting ranges and why so few wives accompany their husbands on hunting or fishing excursions.

Even in homes where a healthy attitude exists towards the outdoors and the natural world, children are often allowed to waste countless hours in front of television and be brainwashed. Many of us counter this by exposing our sons to fieldsports, but what about the girls? If they don’t understand or share our enthusiasm for the wild, how can you blame them if every gogga makes them scream? Or if they harbour strong anti-hunting and anti-fishing sentiments one day?

Through her close contact with wild animals, Karien is developing a calm and peaceful nature, quite uncharacteristic of a child her age. In turn, it gives animals more confidence in her presence.

Although I started introducing my two older granddaughters, Lise and Danielle, a bit late, they both have compassion for wild creatures, but at the same time, are very enthusiastic about fishing and shooting. But it’s Karien, the youngest, who continually pesters me to go fishing or shooting with her pellet gun. She’s a real bushbaby and as much at home amongst the wildlife in the lowveld as any boy. Whether it’s kudu, waterbuck or buffalo, she knows them all. She also has an eye for the subtle beauty of the smallest creatures, which few boys will notice or appreciate.

Other times she’s just a little girl and when she’s not a “loving mother” to her dolls or pretending to be Ouma’s little dog, she runs around collecting insects, spiders, frogs or small reptiles for me to photograph. When I’m a bit too slow to take the photos because I’m doing something else, she’ll simply pick up the camera and take the pictures herself. After dark she patrols the lights outside the house and gets wildly excited when she comes across an unfamiliar insect or even a huge, deadly Parabuthus scorpion.

Women beat the drum
Today women are no longer housewives like our mothers used to be. Women are starting to beat the drum. They are increasingly being given executive powers and are playing an increasingly important role in government, which formulates legislation that controls what we may or may not do as hunters, shooters, anglers, falconers, boating and 4×4 enthusiasts.
We therefore have a moral responsibility to let young girls encounter the creatures of the bush and share in the excitement to be had from fieldsports. Only by giving little girls like Karien this kind of exposure, will the rights of future fieldsportspeople be protected one day.