Feagan: The Fat Female Fox
An African Christmas Fable
…as told to Iris Hunt by the Cheetah Duma Duke
Violent earthquakes and fire streams of molten lava from volcanic eruptions changed the earth’s crust for millions of years. As the earth parted to form The Great Rift Valley, a spouting and out-pouring of molten rock from the depths formed the huge mass that was to become Mount Kenya.
How to find out where Father Christmas lives…
Every child in Kenya knows that Father Christmas has a house on Mount Kenya. Why, you can almost see it on a clear day from the plains below the majestic mountain. But it was not always like that.
There were not always children watching for Father Christmas to come once a year from his lofty home.
After the volcanoes spat fire for the last time, the mountain cooled. It had grown so tall that ice and snow had covered its cone, reaching far into the Equatorial sky. Mount Kenya’s frosty summit then towered over the massive Alps in Europe. What in time would become its mighty brother to the south, Kilimanjaro, was not even born.
For the next few millions of years, the sun shone mercilessly on the King of Mountains, so much so that the ice began to shift with such force that the crater walls crumbled and fell into fields of stony scree below. Melting ice, rain and fire all took their toll.
So, like old folks, the ancient mountain began to shrink until one day the peaks fell below the much younger twin summits of Kibo and Mwenzi on Kilimanjaro. All that remained on Mount Kenya was its volcanic plug – a core of treacherous, sharp-edged spikes sticking up like a sore, broken tooth.
The ice now nestled between them and formed mighty glaciers that fed many rivers and streams running off its massive shoulders, providing a permanent cascade of water onto richly fertile soil around the base. On the upper slopes of the great mountain were enormous fields of great Alpine flowers and heathers giving way to tangled thickets of bamboo reaching into lush forests thickly carpeted with ancient stands of Cedar and Podo, Wild Fig and African Olive.
Many wild animals roamed these forests, so impenetrable at first that only the king-sized Elephant was able to move through the tightly knitted fiber of the foliage. But like giant bull-dozers, they made tunnels and tracks that the other animals were able to use to get around in increasing numbers.
There were no people then. It was only about 10,000 years ago that the fiercest of all predators, Man, arrived on the mountain. Or rather it was Woman, the original native “Eve,” who looked up to the mists parting on the peaks with wonder and disbelief as it dawned on her that this must be the home of the great God she called Engai.
She and her descendants respected his sacred domain on Mount Kenya and left it undisturbed for thousands of years.
Christian missionaries came and went and in time all the children came to know of the mystical home of Father Christmas somewhere in the mist of the snowy peaks.
But to this day the secret has been guarded and kept by the wild creatures of the forest.
Father Christmas, a.k.a. Santa Claus has since become a figure of wide-eyed enchantment for local children, especially as the day draws near for him to come down the mountain, bring them presents and take the seasonal spirit of giving and goodwill all over Africa.
It is really only the animals in the Orphanage and their wild friends in the forest and beyond who know for sure where Father Christmas lives.
On the sun-swept plains at the foot of the mountain, there once lived a female Bat Eared Fox named Feagan.
Her family of seven lived mostly underground. The young were allowed out of the burrow only in the mornings or evenings to be warmed by the sun, or under the veil of darkness. They would all then go out onto the open plains to forage for a dinner of insects, small rodents, berries or anything they could find that pleased their palate.
If it was too hot, the large surface of their oversized ears served to lose excess body heat. If it was too cool the bushy furry tail could be wrapped around the small body like a fur coat.
The Foxes seldom ventured into the forest above the plains. For one, it was too cold. But the main reason lay in the danger it held. For it was known to be the home of the Leopard, their biggest enemy. Surely, from his watching perch in the tree, no Leopard would let such a tasty meal as a little defenseless fox pass under his nose. The wind rustling the leaves in a constant flickering of light and shadow on their spotted coats made them invisible, even to the sharpest foxy eyes. Yet, they were everywhere.
When Feagan was small, the careful mother Fox was kept her safe from both the Leopards and the ever-threatening birds of prey, the great raptors, circling over the forest canopy.
She taught her young daughter to put her huge ears close to the ground to listen for tasty insects that could be dug up. Together, they soaked up the rays of the sun to keep them warm through the night.
Feagan learned to move silently on her tiny delicate feet, to sneak up without a sound on an unsuspecting lizard or baby bird. But she had an especially sweet tooth and was exceptionally greedy, so in the season of the ripening berries, she wandered far longer and further than the others to satisfy her craving. At these times, she would eat much too much and grew fatter and fatter. Her little belly hurt as it swelled up and her fur coat split at the seams.
All the Foxes and all the animals on the land below Mount Kenya, called Laikipia, made fun of little lump of an animal, calling her “Feagan the Fat Female Fox.”
After one particularly rich meal of groundnuts and fat tasty nightcrawlers the greedy Fox decided it was time go up to the house of Father Christmas and ask him if he would please give her a new, larger fox-fur coat. As “payment” in return, she would offer to help take his loads of gifts down the mountain.
Clever as she was she would run ahead unseen at night through the lighter undergrowth and home to her home on the plains. She would hide his gifts in her den underground way before Santa could get there. He had to wait for daylight to fly down the mountain, he had no GPS!!
So, the little fox thought, Father Christmas would recognize her as an especially handy helper, seeing that she did have far more local knowledge than his team of mini-human elves.
Feagan dreamed that night of her return home, looking so glamorous in her new coat that all the animals crowded round her enviously with the most handsome bachelor Foxes, falling to their knees to propose. She awoke with a start from the delicious reverie, her little mouth watering at the thought of tucking into all that chocolate in Santa’s bag of gifts.
If only she knew where he lived. That was the only problem, as she saw it in the cold light of dawn.
She tossed and turned for a while, thinking about it, until she could bear it no more. Her mind made up, she quickly got out of bed and, without sound, sneaked off into the gloom of the mighty forest jungle.
At once the forest animals sensed a fox entering their domain, but little Feagan – fat though she was for her size – was also agile, moving fast and unseen through the undergrowth on a determined progress up the mountain.
It was not long before she reached the Mount Kenya Game Ranch. And it was there, on her way across a stretch of sunlit grazing land, that she decided to approach a non-violent group of Bongo and ask directions from these wise antelope who must know the area well. The Bongo, in turn, were curious to learn what the fat little bat-eared creature was up to.
“Tell me where Father Christmas lives,’ the fox said rather cheekily.
But the big bull Bongo shook his head. “We’ll help you, if you’ll help us,” he replied rather sternly.
Patiently he explained how it was that, outside the ranch their kind had become extinct as there were no more Bongo left anywhere on Mount Kenya. His small herd was protected and well cared for on the Ranch and it was hoped that one day they might be able to return to their native habitat in the deepest part of the forest to re-establish themselves in their former kingdom. In the meantime, they asked all visitors and friends of the Ranch to contribute to their care.
“Make a donation,” he said, “no matter how small, and I’ll tell you where to find Father Christmas.”
But generosity to other animals was something the young Feagan still had to learn. She wasn’t prepared to part with so much as a mite and scampered off – none the wiser, but undaunted.
That was a mean spirited and greedy Fat Female Fox, it was decided by a Council of Elder Animals on the Ranch who met straight away to discuss the incident. They still wondered what exactly she was up to and ordered a “volunteer,” Sunny the Suni, the smallest and swiftest of the Antelope, to catch up with her and find out more. A buck Duiker named Dickie said he would follow her in support.
The two little Antelopes duly came across fat little Feagan while she was taking a fox nap. They woke her up and the Duiker said:
“We want to know why you’re looking for Father Christmas.”
But the canny fox wasn’t saying anything.
“OK,” Dickie the Duiker intervened… “But why are you being so mean and greedy? We know where his house is – and we’ll tell you, if you’d just be kind enough to give something back. Just a small contribution, that’s all we’re asking, to help all the animals on the Ranch.”
His appeal again fell on big but stubbornly deaf ears. Mean little Feagan made her excuses and swiftly departed for the hills.
Back at the Council, the Elders were rightly annoyed when they heard what had happened. They immediately got word to a Bush-pig at the far end of the Ranch who could intercept the Fox on her route up the mountain.
When he sighted her, snorting ferociously, he burst out of the bush to frighten her. But Feagan knew that Bat-Eared Foxes were not part of a Bush-Pig’s diet and defiantly stood her ground.
“Porky pig,” she addressed him rudely with the same question, thinking only of her objective. “Tell me where Father Christmas lives.”
“Never,” spluttered the pig, taken aback. “Not unless you make a donation to – ”
But the fox cut him short, spinning on her tail. “Never,” she thought meanly, as she again took off at high speed towards the upper slopes of the mountain.
She had been somewhat foolishly brave in standing up to “Porky.” If he hadn’t been so surprised by her pip-squeak insolence, he might well have given her a jab in the rump with the sharp end of a tusk. In any event, the cheeky Fox wasn’t feeling at all brave when, after crossing over the boundary of the Ranch, she found herself in denser and darker forest.
Until then, she had never seen a Leopard. Now she could sense his closeness and was fearful he would see her, lying in wait on a high branch of a tree for an incautious passing bite of supper. With that awful thought in mind, she continued on her course as fast and stealthily as she could, driven by fear and the selfish greed that had so upset the Ranch animals.
Nor had they finished with her yet. The Council decided she must be given a lesson on her mean-spirited attitude and assigned the mission to the Head Buffalo in the forest, communicating as usual by a relay of the tick birds that habitually perch on his massive shoulders.
In due course, the big buffalo did as he was asked, planting himself in the path of the little Fox, lowering his fearsome boss, snorting and stomping the ground. But he was no Leopard, and again Feagan was not impressed.
“I want to know where Santa Claus lives,” she said rudely.
The buffalo looked up puzzled, slightly confused by the brash little tyke. “I’ll tell you, but only if – ”
Feagan well knew what was coming and pretended to stare back at some imminent danger. And then, as the great head came up sniffing the air to determine what it might be, the nifty little Fox darted between his hoofs and shot away before he realized she was gone.
Now the animals really had their dander up. “We’ve just got to stop this pesky, greedy little beast,” they fumed, deciding to send in an equivalent Centurion tank for the purpose – a wild rhino. But they were confounded. There were a few survivors of the species on the Ranch, but out in the wild of Mount Kenya they had long since been shot or speared to extinction by poachers.
Even if Feagan had been aware of what the outraged Bongo and the others had in mind, she wouldn’t have been too worried anyway. Callow youth that she was, she thought that rhino were stupid animals, unpredictable maybe, but no danger to her.
Nor did she give a fig about their so-called “extinction” on the mountain, or any other species for than matter – except, of course, her own. That was the concern of others and, right then, all she cared about was getting herself a new fur coat. The animals on the Ranch could “go whistle” for a donation from Feagan “The Smart Little Fox.”
The Council then hit on another plan, an excellent idea from the wise old bull Bongo.
A colony of black and white Colobus monkeys had recently been cared for on the Ranch, but had now been released back into the wild – their natural forest habitat in the area where Feagan was then located by the scouting birds.
Monkeys are primates, closely related to humans. The Fox would surely know that some humans could be far more dangerous, sneakier predators than any other animals, even the Leopard. Maybe, the Council thought, the bad little beast will show some respect to the Colobus.
Feagan was duly tracked down and confronted. “We can show you where Father Christmas lives,” the big male Colobus said. “Just make a contribution to the care of our little brothers still up there in the Animal Orphanage.” He pointed in the direction of the Ranch.
“Not a chance,” the mean little fox barked back. “They’re your problem – not mine.”
The monkeys argued their point cleverly, as they would do, being primates. But perversely stubborn as well as mean, Feagan was having none of it. “Just leave me alone,” she snapped. “Go look after your own kind. They’re nothing to me.”
And so it went on for a while, the Fox rude as well as defiant, until the Colobus finally gave up and swung off in the trees to report back to the Council.
There the animals decided to make a last attempt at facing down the intractable little creature, and who would have more chance of doing that, finally, than the mightiest and wisest of them all, the Elephant? They would send in the gentle giant to use his regal authority to instill a proper sense of values into the Fox. If the great Pachyderm couldn’t persuade her to do “what’s only right,” the Council concluded, “then whoever could?”
It was a big mother Elephant who finally loomed over the diminutive Fox on the forest trail, peering down the length of her long trunk not unkindly, but majestically.
Now Feagan had seen Elephants before when they passed by the door to her den on the plains and she knew all about their trunks. She made her self pitifully small, as a foxy idea came into her mind
‘Tell me where Father Christmas lives,’ she squeaked appealingly.
“Of course, my dear,” the Mother Elephant replied in her sonorous, educated manner of speaking. “I will even carry you up to his house myself if you would only be good enough to show just a little care for animals other than yourself. Just a token donation would be appreciated.”
“Yah Yah,” the Fox yelped back. Or it might have “Yah Boo!” The surprise retort was anyway exceedingly rude. And so was Feagan’s swift, sharp passing nip at the carelessly dangling trunk as she darted through the great animal’s legs.
“Ouch!” The Elephant trumpeted at the pain of the sneaky bite on a sensitive place. She swiveled round as fast as she could, but Feagan was long gone, swallowed up by the thick of the forest. Mightily pleased with herself, of course, chuckling over having literally “out-foxed” the biggest and brainiest of all the animals.
She was not further challenged as she made her way towards the upper reaches of the mountain, except by birds arriving in relays to track her course. There were flights of brilliantly colorful Turacos, Starlings and Orioles and squabbling Parrots, but they stayed overhead and the Fox paid them no attention as she emerged out of the forest onto the high Alpine moorlands.
Uncultured as she was ungenerous, Feagan wasn’t in the least interested in the extraordinary beauty of a landscape she’d never seen before. The little philistine Fox rushed on through clumps of tussock grass, totally ignoring the amazing flora – unique Giant Lobelias, huge bushes of everlasting Helichrysums and beautiful bouquets of Irises and Larkspur.
Then, suddenly, she was finally stopped in her tracks, startled by a loud flapping noise as a big, razor-billed raptor settled above her on a rocky outcrop. It was the huge predatory Lammergeier Vulture, who really did relish small foxes – as Feagan had learned very well from her mother. Now she was really scared as the Vulture relayed the familiar message from the Council.
“I have to tell you,” the raptor eyed her menacingly, “that I’ll take you safely to where Father Christmas lives, but only if you pledge support for the animals at the Orphanage. Do that now, or – ”
But Feagan didn’t wait to hear what the awful “or” might be. She darted into a bunker of rocks and stayed there for many hours until hungry, as well as bored, the Vulture flew off to attend to the business of supper elsewhere. But not until she was quite sure the dreadful bird had abandoned the idea of dining locally did the Fox venture out of her rocky hide and set off again up the mountain, now racing against time.
The sun was then low in the sky; the shadows grew longer and the air got chillier by the minute. The Fox felt her ears hurt from the icy wind and hurried further up toward the peaks, ignoring the small forests of exquisite of wild Protea with their beautiful blooms glistening in hundred shades of delicate pink in mellow, roseate light of the late afternoon.
She got her first glimpse of an ice-field, called the Lewis Glacier, after passing through a chilly, foggy area knows as “The Gate of Mists.” This has got to be where Santa lives, she decided.
Continuing her foolishly rapid ascent, unaccustomed as she was to the thin mountain air she could hardly breathe now. What she didn’t know was that the lack of oxygen at these heights could badly affect even the cleverest animals’ judgment in the most disastrous ways.
Confused now by a strange, piping voice that called her headlong rush to a halt, she looked up and hazily saw a big Rock Hyrax sunning himself in the last, slanting rays of the day on his frosty perch.
Her wits slowly returning, Feagan remembered once being told that no other mammal lived above the Rock Hyrax on Mount Kenya.This would be the last chance she’d have to get local help and advice from an animal that must know, for sure, where Father Christmas was to be found.
But the high-flying Mountain Chat had already circled the peaks telling everyone the story of the greedy Fox and so the Hyrax was ready for her turning up in his territory. They duly went through question and answer ritual he was expecting, but – uncaring to the last – the Fox flatly refused to donate so much as a peanut or a worm to the cause of wildlife conservation.
But finally she would get the hard lesson she deserved. Up at 14000 feet in the oxygen-starved domain of the Saint of Christmas charity, she made her fatal misjudgment as the Hyrax tricked her befuddled brain.
“All right, my friend,” he said with a sigh of pretend resignation. “See that cave over there? The one with the icicles hanging in front of it?… That, my fat little fox, is where Father Christmas lives.”
It was almost dark as Feagan entered the gloomy cave, exhausted and hungry. A huge squadron of bats appeared from nowhere, buzzing round her head like a swarm of locusts. She ducked and dived, but then stopped, perked up by a sudden inspiration. “Great,” she thought, “I’ll have one of those crazy bats for dinner.”
And with that she started a series of leaps in the air, tail held high in elegant pose, poised to swat her intended prey to the ground. But she’d forgotten, or didn’t know, about their marvelous sonar defense that automatically steers the blind flying rodents away from any solid objects in the air. No way could they be downed with anything but nets.
So they had a high old time, zooming clear of Feagan’s futile swishing and swatting and then shrieking with laughter when at last she collapsed exhausted on the foul, guano-splattered floor. Some of the ruder teenagers chanted “Funny, Fat, Filthy Fox” and dropped well-placed deposits on the split and otherwise tatty old coat she wanted so desperately to replace.
Most of the bats soon tired of the sport and flocked up to rest for a while dangling upside down from the rocky rafters of the cave. But a few stayed in the air to keep an eye on the Fox, who, less hassled, slowly began to recover her senses.
She sniffed the air and picked up the delicious scent of chocolate, or so she thought. It was irresistible and so, swallowing her pride, she called out politely to a passing bat.
“Excuse me,” she said, “This is where Father Christmas lives – isn’t it? Please, I’ve got to know.”
This just in, straight from the Cheetah’s mouth:
A meeting just ended between the Council of Forest Animals and Father Christmas. The Chaircat Duma Duke confirmed that the secret about Father Christmas is safe.
Furthermore it was resolved that all humans that make their contribution by ordering a two year green page subscription, can be trusted with the secret. Proceeds from your subscriptions benefit all the animals at the Mount Kenya Game Ranch. Many of them have found new homes in the freedom of the mountain.
For every Subscription you order between now and Christmas, the Chaircat will share with you the secret of where Father Christmas really lives. If you want to find out where Father Christmas lives on Mount Kenya:
The bat, having had her fun with the fox, was good enough be honest. “No” he said, “but he stopped here to rest on his way taking presents down to the animals in the Orphanage. Sorry about that.”
But silly Feagan thought he was lying, trying to fool her. Convinced by the lingering scent of Santa’s chocolate she was convinced she had reached her goal. He couldn’t have gone. And with a withering look at her tormentor’s grinning face, she rushed off into the darkest depths of the cave to finally get what she’d traveled so far and perilously to find…
But she was never seen or heard of again.
Duma Duke has it on good authority that Santa Claus actually took pity on the greedy fat female fox Feagan. Never one to give up on spreading peace on earth, Father Christmas did stop at that same cave on his way back up the mountain. He had only one gift of Chocolate left in his sack, and with it he hoped to persuade the Fox to change her ways. She was very weak and grateful when he finally appeared. Feagan promised that never again would she ignore her fellow animals with such arrogance, never again would she get so greedy that she almost lost her life.
Father Christmas saw to it that she gained strength before her long journey back into the animal kingdom. As she had by now lost a lot of weight her old coat fit perfectly and her eyes were shiny with excitement and pride when she left that cave.
Postscript: The “model” for all the photographs was, of course our much loved bat eared Fox “Brit.”