DESCRIBING herself as a mom to two squirrels, Simone describes how a very special squirrel came into her and her partner’s lives:
“Dingetjie is a Smith’s Bush Squirrel, a very special tree squirrel. We found her in October 2016, when she fell out of her nest at a friend’s house. It was a very cold windy day and she was lying, pink and hairless, underneath a sail in the corner on the floor screaming for mommy. Unfortunately, the mom never came back and we realised we had to rescue her or she wouldn’t make it. When we picked her up she was very cold and scared. We kept her warm and she eventually stopped screaming. I got kitty milk to feed her, though obviously I did not know anything about raising a baby squirrel and had to do a lot of research.
I had to get up several times to feed her at night. She also did not like the idea of being in a small cage, so I got a small shoe box with a heating pad covered with blankets to keep her warm. It was only a matter of time until she refused to sleep in the shoe box and preferred the bed with me.
She went with me to work every day for the first three months. I normally fed her when I woke up and then she got into my scarf, shirt or anywhere warm close to my body and off we went to work.
We never wanted to keep her in captivity and were happy to give her the chance to be a squirrel, and were prepared for when the day came to release her and say goodbye. We kept her inside the house for about two and half months to make making sure she would be able to look after herself out in the wild. We lived in the Greater Kruger National Park area, with dangerous animals around us, and she needed to be prepared for that.
So one day we put her on the grass to see what she would do. Next thing she climbed into a tree and her natural instincts immediately kicked in. It was pretty amazing and sad at the same time. Christof and I realised how attached we’d become to this tiny creature. But as it turned out, she never took off, she always came back. We started to leave the window open for her during the day so she could come and go as she pleased.
She knew that the house was a safe and warm place. I believe she also felt how much we loved and cared for her. She’d normally stay in bed until I was ready to leave and come out from the duvet to say good bye. At first it was stressful leaving and I always wondered if it would be the last time I saw her. But, every day, when I come home, she’d be waiting and then would run inside to say hello. There were even days where she decided not to go outside at all.
In April 2017 we noticed she had picked up weight. It turned out she was pregnant. Sadly, the baby, whom we called Tinkie, passed away one day while outside. This was absolutely heartbreaking as Dingetjie was waiting for her baby to come back and she never did.
When Dingetjie was a year old we noticed she had breathing problems, and found out she has Odontoma, a bony growth around a tooth root that blocks the sinus cavity. She had an operation and was due for her second one when we discovered she was pregnant again.
Dingetjie gave birth while we were busy moving to East London. She made a nest in one of our bags and decided that this will be the place to give birth. On September 9, 2018, Dingetjie gave birth to baby Mistie first at 19h00. A second baby was born but did not survive.
Mistie absolutely loves us. The moment we get into their outside enclosure she will immediately jump onto us to groom us or cuddle into our clothes. Dingetjie wakes me up in the morning by grooming my face, toes, hands or legs. She jumps on my shoulders and goes to my mouth for a kiss.
In October 2018 Dingetjie went in for her second and hopefully last operation. Due to this condition she cannot be returned to the wild as her incisors had to be removed. Now we have made them an outdoor enclosure with trees, plants, and lots of space to play. Both Dingetjie and Mistie sleep in the bed in the house and during the day they go outside to play. It’s quite lovely, as we spend time with them in the outdoor enclosure during the day.
Dingetjie chose to stay with us, we never kept her from being wild. Now she and Mistie have the best of both worlds. A warm and loving home and a huge playground outside.
Mom and daughter are healthy and happy and absolutely love each other. Dingetjie is teaching Mistie all the naughty stunts that come with a being a squirrel. Mistie basically shadows her mom everywhere. It’s pretty amazing to see the bond between them. Christof and I absolutely love them to bits and pretty much plan our lives around them.
To follow Dingetjie and Mistie, go to Instagram @dingetjiethesquirrel and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dingetjiethesquirrel/