1. First of all I wish to report a new bird species at Dokmai Garden: White-rumped Munia. According to literature this is a common bird found in most of Thailand. However, at Dokmai Garden the Scaly-breasted Munia is far more common, nesting everywhere, while the dark chocolate brown White-rumped Munia has never been reported before, in spite of visits by several distinguished ornithologists. We hope this lonely bird was not just passing by. That makes 101 bird species reported from Dokmai Garden.
2. We decided that before we leave for Sweden, we should boost the remaining chicken population with some new genes. We purchased a rooster quite similar to the red jungle fowl (gai pa) from a nearby farm for 200 Baht. It is kept in a chicken dome at the feeding place for ten days just to make friends with our original chicken and the people here before being released.
3. In previous blogs I have mentioned the dream to introduce hair or naked sheep (i.e. non-woolly and more original sheep) to replace the expensive, time consuming, polluting and noisy lawn mowers. The problem was to get hold of such sheep because they are still rare in Thailand. The military north of town keep woolly sheep but they demand frequent shearing which we do not have time for at Dokmai Garden.
From left to right: Young Shrek and the more experienced ladies Fiona and Bee-Bee working as a mowing team.
On the 14th we received two Brazilian Santa Inês ewes and a hybrid ram with South African Dorper genes. The ewes will give birth to lambs in about one month’s time. Although the Santa Inês breed is so beautiful with its slick coat, and is well adapted to tropical climate and parasites, we are afraid of inbreeding due to the limited number of individuals in Thailand. A sheep cross would be safer for successful reproduction. After all, mowing is the aim, not pure breeds, and Santa Inês is already a result of crosses including Italian Morada Nova, Italian Bergamasca and Brazilian Crioula. The Dorper is a South African breed, popular in Australia too. Its ancestors are Black headed Persian and Horned Dorset. The Dorper is well adapted to a hot and arid climate and should therefore be a good choice here in Chiang Mai.
An idea for the future is to import Santa Inês sperm which demands less bureaucracy and costs, but we are migrating to Sweden so I should not get caught too deeply in this project which might be ruined by soi dogs anyhow.
It is estimated that only 10% of the world’s sheep population are hair or fur sheep, and 90% of these occur in Africa. That sheep are rare in Thailand was clear from the crowd of curious villagers encircling the pick-up delivering our sheep. Most villagers have only seen cats, dogs, cows and water buffaloes.
At present the sheep are kept in the former restaurant garden, walking freely to get familiar with people and the area. After about three days we intend to release them into the parking garden but keep their night quarters in the restaurant garden. After that they are ready to graze the main garden. My early observations indicate they eat carpet grass (Axonopus compressus, Poaceae) and sedge (Cyperus leucocephalus, Cyperaceae), but also leaves of bamboo, banana, Wrightia religiosa (Apocynaceae) and Saraca indica (Fabaceae). That means young banana suckers need protection. Unpeeled banana fruits and star fruits were highly appreciated, and so was peeled pineapple. The juicy drupes of the chin of Prometheus (Irvingia malayana, Irvingiaceae) were also appreciated, but the sheep did not swallow the seeds which seem too big for anything but wild boar, elephant and rhino. I tried feeding them the invasive sensitive mimosa (Mimosa pudica, Fabaceae). When I held the bunch in my hand they did not take it, when thrown on the ground they suspiciously tasted some and indeed they swallowed but they walked away before finishing the spiny heap. Tomato fruits and passion fruit were treated in the same way. Our sheep sniffed the leaves of water hyacinth, kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix, Rutaceae) and Mimusops elengi (Sapotaceae) but rejected all. Kaffir lime fruits were not appreciated either.
As night quarters we offer two raised pavilions with rice straw roofs and brick floor, but the first night the sheep preferred sleeping on the bare ground under the Saraca indica tree.
Considering a good Honda mowing machine costs 36000 Baht and demands additional costs for fuel, repair, electric sharpener, additional trimmer, man power and eventually needs to be replaced, three hair sheep with two unborn lambs are cheaper to buy and maintain, and they reproduce rapidly and provide meat and skin. Their mowing is more even and gentle than a rotating blade. Studies show that ladybird populations may decline due to intensive machine mowing but not due to grazing. Since the heavy tropical rains inevitably reshape the landscape a mowing machine sometimes cuts into the undulating soil leaving ugly bare spots. In addition, sheep are cute and add beauty to the landscape while a mowing machine is a necessary evil you stuff away in a shed. A mowing machine at Dokmai Garden may last about five years, a sheep lives 10-15 years.
Tiger, leopard and dhole are extinct in our area and the chance of clouded leopard and Asian golden cat to show up is almost nil. Our only concern are python and stray dogs. The Dokmai Garden fence is 1 km and the sheep night quarter is fenced within the fence, but a defense routine is still necessary. It is almost impossible to prevent access of python but unlike dogs a python would only make one kill. In fact, since dogs are the most abundant medium-sized mammal, it is more likely the python helps us with dog control.
Wild sheep or mouflon (Ovis aries, Bovidae) are native to the arid mountains of western Asia and the Balkan and so sheep are exotic in Thailand. Wild Thai relatives of sheep (subfamily Caprinae) are Southern serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) and Long-tailed goral (Naemorhedus caudaus), both endangered due to hunting. Our initial idea to introduce such species or native deer failed due to lack of interest among governmental institutions. Sheep are still much better than mowers!
Kate and Mika visiting Pong and Kriangkrai at their sheep farm.
Fiona (front) is the leader of the herd and the one who takes initiative. When I saw them at the farm I had only eyes for the dark brown beauty Bee-Bee in the background, but Fiona turns out to be more funny and we seem to have a connection. However, Bee-Bee is the sweet tooth of the herd, the only one who grunts of joy when a fruit is offered and who would run to get it, often before her companions. Unlike Fiona she would not touch tomato or passion fruit. The adolescent Shrek has not developed his character yet, but I can already tell he is more fond of taking a break than the ladies. He is also more adventurous in feeding from shrubs.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell