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Absolutely o-some!

A trip to an ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn, South Africa leaves simply o-struck!

, TNN|
Aug 09, 2007, 12.00 AM IST
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Every One knows what ‘playing ostrich’ is all about but you ain;t seen nothin’ yet till you’ve been to Oudtshoorn. What? Oudtshoorn? Well, it’s a large and modern town in South Africa located in the centre of the semi desert Klein (little) Karoo region in the Western Cape. The town owes its origin to the early Dutch settlers and is named after Baron Pieter Van Rheede Van Oudtshoorn, governor of Cape Colony in 1772.

And in case you’re wondering what’s the connection between the two big Os, well, Oudtshoorn has the world's largest population of ostriches. Little wonder then that the locals take pride in calling their town the ‘Ostrich Capital’ of South Arfica!

Klein Karoo stretches from the foothills of majestic Swartberg mountain range in the North to the coastal mountains and the exotic garden route hugging the Indian Ocean coast in the South. And Klein Karoo is watered by many a picturesque mountain stream. Besides, its moderate climate is excellent for growing grapes and lucerne (alfalfa).

Thanks to those grapes, Klein Karoo makes the best South African port! But again, the O connection is that lucerne, is the favourite food of the ostrich. The early Dutch settlers took to ostrich breeding because of abundance of its favourite food available in the region.

Organised ostrich farming started in 1864 in Klein Karoo. We found out that most existing farms are managed by fourth or fifth generation descendents. There are over 400 ostrich farms around Oudtshoorn, now a rather unusual tourist destination.

But during Victorian times, Oudtshoorn had another important duty: to supply the much-prized ostrich feathers to society designers and divas round the world. Ostrich feathers were the most popular Victorian fashion accessory. Colonial imperial ceremonial regalia were incomplete without that imposing hat decorated with ostrich plumes. Oudtshoorn, thus became the Victorian ‘Feather Capital’ of the world !

In the 1880s a pair of ostrich feather would have put you out by about £1000, more than what many earned in 10 years! Even today, at 90 Rand, a pair is worth Rs 500 ! The rich ostrich farmers thus built luxurious mansions known now as ‘feather places’.

They stand to this day in pristine grandeur and are designated national heritage monuments.
Ostrich tourism, however, started only 40 years ago when farms like Safari and Highgate opened their properties to the tourists.

These farms are called show farms. Show farms have a large ostrich population, often exceeding 2500 birds and conduct scheduled guided tours. A visit to a show farm is the best way to get to know this exotic bird species or as the locals call the ‘ultimate ostrich experience.’

The ostrich is a flightless bird native to Africa — and is the largest living species of bird anyway. It can reach upto 9 ft in height and weigh 350 pounds. Best of all, it can reach a top speed of at least 40 miles an hour , which makes it the fastest thing on two legs on the planet! It runs faster than many birds can fly. No wonder the ancient Greeks called it ‘camel sparrow’!

A tour of the Ostrich show farm is a unique and an unforgettable experience. A tour lasts almost an hour and a half. Most tours include visit to breeding sheds, ostrich nests and during the breeding season a visit to the incubator rooms. Some show farms include a visit to the feather palace.too!

The ostrich also lays the biggest bird egg but it’s also the smallest in relation to the size of the mother. If we compare the sizes of hen and to its egg, the ostrich egg should be at least 100 times bigger than its actual size! And visitors test the strength of the eggs by standing on them.

The high point of the farm tour is the ostrich ride and ostrich derby. The sturdy bird can take the weight any 100 kg hulk with ease. Often it is the rider who is not at ease while the bird continues to pose for your most prized picture ! The tour ends with Ostrich race with local jockeys

Show farms have well stocked curio shops where one can find the perfect memento, ostrich leather accessories, feathers, decorated eggs and ethnic African handicrafts. Die-hard foodie can carry their ostrich passion to the in house restaurant which serves ostrich meat and egg meals accompained with the best wines of the region!
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