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Wooing Pongo

Outdoor Living

TASTY TREATS Pine martens everywhere will lick their lips at the prospect of an egg.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Pongo has grown old. It happened quickly, almost overnight. We had known he was no spring chicken; the scars on his muzzle and ragged edge to his ears told us he had been around the block and seen something of life.
When he came for his supper one night last week I was surprised to see how tame he had become. I rang his dinner bell and for once he appeared almost immediately, scrambled up the crab tree and climbed onto the roof of the bird table. The attached wind chime announced his presence musically. He ignored it and tipped my offering of chicken bones onto the ground below, before jumping down to eat in comfort, careless of the fact I was only ten feet away.
I was saddened to see his condition. His coat, once lush and shiny smooth, looked sparse and greasy, his thick and bushy tail now thin and rather ragged. With one eye whitened and opaque, his vision was halved, and his continuous, superfluid motion had become somewhat roughened. What might have happened, to cause such a sudden and profound decline?
Perhaps he had chosen to cross the road at the wrong time, and had met with one of the cars that seem determined to round the local bends at ever-greater speeds. There must be a limit in what can be achieved, pure physics tells us that: centrifugal force combined with an unkind camber; poor traction on wet tarmac. Calamity awaits – today a pine marten, tomorrow a cyclist or somebody’s child, or me, making my way home up to my ears in a book.
Or, and I think this an equally likely scenario, Pongo finally had a showdown with The Cat, which has also been looking the worse for wear of late. I know they have faced off a few times, mostly outside the bedroom window at three or four in the morning, The Cat yowling like an entire clan of banshees and Pongo yip-yip-yipping his high-pitched curses in return. They both claim the garden as their own and would probably like to do each other in. If it came to a fight my money would have been on the pine marten. Perhaps I was wrong.
I caught Pongo at the rubbish bag, with just his bottom sticking out. There was something there he liked the smell of, but what was it? He spent several minutes rooting through various items while digging deeper through all manner of discards, and then finally came up with his prize, a tightly rolled ball of tin foil that had been used in the oven.
I challenged him then. ‘Hoi! Just where do you think you’re going with that?’
At hearing my voice he tucked it under his chin and bolted across the road into the woods, where he spent a good while tearing his prize apart and scattering it among last year’s fallen leaves.
Later that afternoon I saw him back in the garden and rolled an egg across the lawn in his direction. He ran toward it immediately, and stood over it like a miniature lion standing over its kill, looking around one-eyed for any threat or challenge. ‘How would he deal with an egg?’ I wondered.
He showed me, by picking it up in his jaws and taking it into a corner where he opened it carefully, using his lower jaw to make a hole in the uppermost part of the shell, and then lapping up the contents with his long, pink tongue. As he settled down to wash his whiskers I fetched a second egg and rolled it toward him. He couldn’t believe his luck and danced around it, patting the shell with his paws like a cat with a mouse, before opening and eating it in the same manner as before.
The episode with the eggs seemed to mark a turning point in our relationship. Now Pongo responds to my presence with cautious optimism. He is no pet, nor ever will be. Still, he no longer runs when he sees me, but hangs around to see what I might have to offer. Just yesterday he came to within two feet of where I stood to take small cubes of beef that I flicked out one at a time. It is my goal that, before Pongo finally breathes his last and expires, I shall be one of very few who actually have a wild pine marten taking food from the hand.

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