Index

Index
The153 Club
The Agades Cross
People of the Sahara
Saharan Landscapes
Books on the Sahara(1)
Books on the Sahara(2)
Books on African Art
Saharan Salt Trade
The Gundi
Illizi Festival 2000
Sahara Freeze-up
Camel Cheese
153 Club Newsletter
153 News Update
Join the 153 Club
Today's African News

Père de Foucauld
L'Arbre du Ténéré 1
L'Arbre du Ténéré 2
Saharan Forts 1
Saharan Forts 2
Saharan Rock Art
Giraffe Engravings
Leo Africanus
Battuta's Saharan travels
Shabeni's Timbuktu
Timbuctoo the Mysterious
Heroditus & Pliny on Libya
Timbuktu, a poem

Joliba Trust
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 1
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 2
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 3
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 4
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 5
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 6

Old Michelin Maps
Early NW Africa Map 1
Early NW Africa Map 2
Early NW Africa Map 3
Early NW Africa Map 4
Early NW Africa Map 5
Saharan Exploration

Henry Barth 1
Henry Barth 2
Henry Barth 3
Denham & Clapperton 1
Denham & Clapperton 2
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 1
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 2
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 3
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 4

External Links

Jim Mann Taylor's Home Page
___________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Index

Index
The153 Club
The Agades Cross
People of the Sahara
Saharan Landscapes
Books on the Sahara(1)
Books on the Sahara(2)
Books on African Art
Saharan Salt Trade
The Gundi
Illizi Festival 2000
Sahara Freeze-up
Camel Cheese
153 Club Newsletter
153 News Update
Join the 153 Club
Today's African News

Père de Foucauld
L'Arbre du Ténéré 1
L'Arbre du Ténéré 2
Saharan Forts 1
Saharan Forts 2
Saharan Rock Art
Giraffe Engravings
Leo Africanus
Battuta's Saharan travels
Shabeni's Timbuktu
Timbuctoo the Mysterious
Heroditus & Pliny on Libya
Timbuktu, a poem

Joliba Trust
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 1
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 2
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 3
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 4
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 5
Ibn Khaldûn quotes 6

Old Michelin Maps
Early NW Africa Map 1
Early NW Africa Map 2
Early NW Africa Map 3
Early NW Africa Map 4
Early NW Africa Map 5
Saharan Exploration

Henry Barth 1
Henry Barth 2
Henry Barth 3
Denham & Clapperton 1
Denham & Clapperton 2
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 1
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 2
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 3
Haardt & Audouin-Dubreuil 4

External Links

Jim Mann Taylor's Home Page
___________________________

 

The Gundi

These are stories about two out of five species of gundi, the desert gundi Ctenodactylus vali and the Mzab gundi, Massoutiera mzabi. Another two inhabit the 153 area: Ctenodactylus gundi the North African gundi—the 'gundi-mouse' which was given to a Swede in 1774—and the Felou gundi Felovia vae which was first discovered in its only known colony about a hundred years go. The fifth lives far off the 153 in the deserts and mountains of Ethiopia beside the Red Sea.


The Michelin 153 map covers the range of four of five species of the small furry mammal called Gundi. George and I have been chasing gundis for the past fifteen years so several 153s have been worn to tatters. The Map does not have flags on it reading 'Voici, gundis', so you cannot just set off with it and find a gundi. Our first expedition to the Algerian Sahara was a flop. We did not know what we were looking for. We had read about gundis—the comb-toe rodents or ctenodactylids—but it had not helped. All we knew was that they lived in rocky areas, were about the size of a guinea pig and had combs on their toes. Were they to be found in the sun of a Saharan day or were we destined to be groping for gundis in the middle of the night? Reports were conflicting. Did they burrow? Some said yes, some said no. And what did they do with the combs on their toes? There were plausible stories of sand being brushed away from burrows and crazy stories of them combing themselves in the moonlight as they whistled. The beast became more and more mediaeval, straight out of a bestiary. There were a few skins and skulls in the Natural History Museum which gave an idea of size and colour. But colour was not much help as it turned out because red gundis were invisible against red sandstone, blond against pale, black against black. And what of the black gundis? Well, we have not yet seen one.

No one was able to tell us anything useful about the elusive beast until we met Bouzidi the Chaamba. And he told us that the way to find it was to listen or spot its 'crottes'. Gundis drop their pellets on communal dunghills outside their shelters and use the same ledge for centuries. So you not only have to find the droppings and recognise them but you have to know how old they are. Once a good heap has been identified there is nothing to do but sit on a rock nearby, unpack the binoculars and wait. If it's 35C in the shade there is no point in waiting since gundis are not mad Englishmen but know the right temperature for sunbathing. So come back and sit in the cool of the morning or evening. If the topmost crotte on the heap was moist then something is sure to happen. When the sun comes up—if it's not too cold and windy—one two three four out onto a rock shelf, a family of gundis. First face to the sun, then the sides—and, finally, the rump. We quickly learnt that gundis do not come out in the moonlight and do not comb their hair like the Lorelei. They scratch with the combs to avoid damaging the fine fur with their claws. To scratch a rump with a comb on top of a rear foot puts a gundi in direct competition with Charlie Chaplin for funny movements.

The desert gundi of western Algeria is the smallest of the family: chestnut-coloured with nothing but some bristles for a tail. It can endure a higher temperature than its relatives in the 153 area: 41C for eight hours is not bad for a small mammal. Normally—outside experiments—it keeps to ambient shade temperatures between 15 and 35.

After a quick warm-up, gundis come out foraging: sorties to a favourite clump of Moricandia or, failing something so delicious, a nibble at a clump of grass. Grass is a standby. Gundis prefer leaves or the succulent flowers of the Compositae. None eats insects and they prefer greens to seeds. In emergency, they can manage on dry stuff for days but in the long term they need green stuff to stay alive. They do not need to drink. Even the babies get little liquid. A female cannot spare much fluid to make milk so her offspring have to adapt to plants quickly. Gundis are born—never more than three at a time—fully-furred and open-eyed with big back feet. After a few hours they are brought out of the shelter and onto a ledge in the sun but at the slightest sound or shadow the big back feet bounce them back under the rock. Now you see me, now you don't. The mother suckles them a moment but, at the same time, feeds them chewed leaves from her mouth. When she takes them out she may abandon them and then forget which rock so she has to home in on their chirps. And what a chirp they make—like a nestful of birds. When we trapped a Mzab gundi we baited the trap with her babies and she was in there like a shot—before we could get to our hide. Catching the babies had been hilarious. Like the mother, we homed in on them but they were pressed tight into a crack and it was impossible to prise them out. Gundis love cracks. The favourite crack in our house is between a radiator and a wall and these babies were in just such a place only worse with prickly rock, not a smooth radiator. So Wilma crouched below with the chech at the crack while George took a deep deep breath above and blew them down the chimney. Out came one golden puff into the chech. Then a great big blow—and several blows later because the sister had her curved claws well hooked in—down came the second.

The tawny Mzab gundi has longer fur than the desert gundi. It has a short fantail instead of bristles. The Mzab gundi lives round the central mountains of the Sahara and the desert gundi lives over towards the western dunes.

North African gundis are caught in a chech so as not to damage the fur which is easily stripped off. Remarkable for a rodent, no gundi bites and they can be transported in a cardboard box. Once, we brought gundis back to England in a shoe box. We have wandered across Africa—through steamy jungles and over snowy mountains—to deliver gundis in a box to a pilot of some airline. We pack them in wood for posting (nails, screws, thongs, according to local supply). We add sand and leaves. We have brought bundles of lucerne in the souks of North Africa from traders who assumed we had a donkey round the corner and Wilma has been seen running madly across fields in Spain and France to get at the lucerne. She hasn't been caught yet. In 153 country, there is always Gloria. A daily dose of tinned milk let down with water from a small pipette keeps. a travelling gundi in good shape. More of a problem is keeping warm. Gundis get miserable when the temperature drops below 15C. In winter, they keep warm inside the rock by piling up in a heap. When the sun shines, they are out on a ledge or sheltered from extreme heat in a breezy nook. It was not easy to provide such facilities on long journeys to the sunless north.

There are many French hoteliers who must have wondered what went into our room in a huge basket and wondered much more when it whistled. They would have been astounded if they had seen the bed heaped with furniture to get the gundis near the light bulb with us curled up in between the chair legs. And what did they think of the small black pellets they found on sheets in the morning?

One year leaving Alger by boat, we had to battle with customs for possession of our Land Rover. There was nothing wrong with our papers—they just wanted the Land Rover. The gundi boxes were snugly wrapped in sleeping bags for the sea-crossing. Finally, George argued his way through the Algerian web of duplicity and reached agreement for shipping the Land Rover but the boat was loaded.' The Land Rover would be shipped after us on a freighter. (The customs officer showed gold teeth when he smiled). As we steamed out of the dock we saw the sleeping bags being stolen on the quayside. Death to the gundis. We spent a miserable night on board with the Captain radioing back to Alger to insist that the Land Rover should be put on the next freighter as promised. Thanks no doubt to the French captain, the Land Rover followed us on a freighter to Marseilles. But the comedy continued. This time French customs decided they liked the Land Rover and anyway it was 'pas normal' for it to sail by itself on a freighter when it was an 'accompanied car'. Befriended by our ship's purser, George was advised to jump into the Land Rover at midday when all good Frenchmen are obsessed with lunch and drive like hell through the barriers. Unbelievable success. But what of the gundis? Some were dead but the others were revived over what Rover are pleased to call a heater. The survivors returned to England tucked snugly inside Wilma's T-shirt and entertained us with their whistles and chirps for many years.

Wilma George © 1984

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