The Sacred Ibis in Africa

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
I have wanted to see a Sacred Ibis for some time now, and would have been more than satisfied to see one at a zoo somewhere. Instead, our trip to Africa included seeing Sacred Ibis in the wild, which was a real thrill for me.  This bird belongs to an ancient group, with fossil records going back some 60 million years.  Records of the Sacred Ibis in human history go back some 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptians venerated it and made it an integral part of their religion. Carvings of the Sacred Ibis are found in many Egyptian monuments and they were also mummified and buried in the temples with the pharaohs.

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the god Thoth has the body of a man and the head of an Ibis, which gives you some indication of how very sacred the bird was to the early inhabitants of the Nile Valley. Ibises were sacred because they had secret knowledge: They showed up shortly before the annual floods, and they were thought to kill poisonous snakes and even crocodiles.  (Note: I can find no evidence that full size cobras and crocodiles were ever at risk of death by Ibis!)

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
It is the mythology and mysticism associated with the Scared Ibis that  has me fascinated.  The ibis-headed god, Thoth, eventually evolved into the Greek god Hermes and the Roman god Mercury. What I find most incredible is that major gods of early human civilizations were inspired by this incredible avian species that is still with us today.

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The Ibis-headed Thoth was the Egyptian god of wisdom, writing, numbers, the arts, astronomy, magic, and the moon.  Egyptians associated the ibis's long curved beak with the moon. He was also a god of the underworld, in charge of the scales in the Hall of Judgement.  Thoth used the scales to weigh the heart of the deceased against the feather of truth to determine if they were worthy to enter the afterlife.

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
Thoth was the inventor of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, which is the first form of human's written language. He was the author of The Book of Thoth, a book that contained all of the magic on earth and was therefore prohibited to all but the most powerful magicians.  He also wrote The Book of the Dead, which contained instructions for maneuvering one's way through the rituals of the underworld. The beak of the ibis was seen as a representation of the pen that was used in Thoth's role as scribe of the gods and creator of the written word.

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The black and white bird was also seen as a symbol of balance.  Day and night, good and bad, reward and punishment: all were functions of the Ibis god, Thoth.  Maintaining equilibrium on the earth inspired Thoth to invent astronomy, astrology, engineering, botany, and geometry.  Thoth is also credited with dividing the year into 365 days, which brought the days in the year into balance with the rest of the solar system.

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
Nowadays, people laugh at the notion of worshiping a stupid bird as if it were a god.  But don't laugh too hard unless you really understand the concepts and symbols related to the pagan god known as Thoth/Hermes/Mercury.  These 'mythological' stories have a very familiar underlying message that would be recognized by adherents of every 'modern' faith that exists today.  I was lucky enough to be introduced to Thoth by Jeanne Mayell; a wonderful teacher of spirituality mixed with science.  Jeanne freed me from the the prison of a closed mind, but the rest is up to me.

Sacred Ibis, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The flight of the Sacred Ibis represents the path each person must take toward higher understanding and enlightenment. I am committed to taking that path, no matter how hard or how lonely it might be. This bird has become more to me than just another checkmark on my lifelist. This bird is symbolic of the harmony, balance, and synchronicity of the universe. As far as I'm concerned, this Ibis is definitely Sacred!


Like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi? You'll Love These African Mongooses!

I read Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book at least 30 times as a kid.  This was before the Disney version (gasp!), but I preferred the original stories anyway.  Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the valiant mongoose who killed massive snakes to protect his adopted human family, was always one of my favorite stories.  No matter how often I read the story and despite knowing the ending by heart, I was always terrified of the evil cobras, Nag and Nagaina.  They seemed invincible in their awful intelligence and their deadly venom. Come to think of it, that story may have been the origin of my snake phobia - even though the brave little mongoose never failed to kill every snake in the garden.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was an Indian mongoose, but there are many species of mongoose, and we were lucky enough to see a family group of Banded Mongoose on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River in Zambia. We were also lucky to have my husband Tom on board taking photos.  Tom did an outstanding job at capturing these excellent mongoose images, don't you think?

The Banded Mongoose usually eat rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs, and insects such as beetles and worms. They also love to eat eggs.  All species of Mongoose will fight and kill small snakes, and they all engage in vicious battles with very large snakes if necessary. These small, cuddly-looking mammals often kill the much larger and very venomous snakes when such a battle ensues.  They are lightening fast and amazingly smart little carnivores.  They know how to evade a striking cobra and avoid a spitting one. They attack without ceasing even as they perform their evasive maneuvers, and eventually they'll chomp down on the snakes head and crush the reptile's skull.  They're awesome!

Baby Mongooses!  Can you see them?  The one on the far right is pretty blurry, but there's another one right in the middle of the adults.  How could you not want a little mongoose for a pet?  They are so adorable!  On the other hand, they are far from domesticated, and it would be pretty risky to approach a band of Banded Mongoose when there are baby mongooses to protect.  Remember what I said about the snakes?  Well, I doubt you'd have much of a chance against a bunch of these fearless predators if a Mozambique Spitting Cobra can't beat a single mongoose in a (relatively) fair fight!

Here's another look at the little baby mongoose.  Even the adults look like stuffed animals.  These Mongooses are very close to the bee-eater nests that are located in the holes in the riverbank just above them. Considering the bloody faces of this bunch, however, I tend to doubt they're feeding on eggs at the moment.  I hope its frogs or lizards and not the beautiful bee-eaters that are being eaten!

You know, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was an ideal pet.  He liked to snuggle and he would ride on the boy's shoulder when he needed to check for snakes in the yard.  On the other hand, mongooses are temperamental and capable of doing serious damage with a playful bite or two.  They are not legal to own as pets in the US, either.

If I ever live in Africa, though, it seems like a mongoose would be an ideal companion.  I don't think carrying one around on my shoulder sounds terribly smart, but what better protection could you get from Puff Adders and Black Mambas than having a mongoose at your side?  It's worth thinking about, anyway.  Or maybe not.  This guy looks more dangerous than delightful!