‘If one single tahr is murdered, you will be next.” That’s one of the death threats that Brett Myrdal, the manager of the Table Mountain National Park, received after SANParks decided to shoot hundreds of Himalayan tahrs on the mountain in 2004 to re-establish indigenous buck populations.
Cape Town’s animal lovers were outraged by the planned cull. They marched across the city to campaign against the tragic fate of the tahr, a relative of the wild goat, brought into SA by Cecil John Rhodes. The National Council for SPCAs (NSPCA) threatened court action.
Today, the troop of marauding baboons that plague the Peninsula evoke a similar, impassioned response among locals. When controversial plans to cull the primates arise, communities are divided and heated debates ensue. Just this week, we heard how animal lovers in the city were outraged by National Geographic’s use of food to lure baboons to a house in Hangklip to get better footage.
In Joburg, the only way this would make dinner table conversation is if some butcher was passing off baboon meat as beef on our plates, or if a lone primate had dared venture into our citadels.
Capetonians, it seems, go ape over the environment and wildlife much more than we professes to. When The Star revealed on Tuesday how the City of Joburg planned to shoot thousands of dassies, apparently “on a reign of terror” in the luxury residential estates of the northern suburbs, there was barely a whimper.
People here, it seems, care more about Idols than they do about our city’s wildlife.
Before September, a team of sharpshooters will head out to the small nature reserves surrounding Fourways Gardens, Mondeor, Klipriversberg, Norscot, Glenvista and Lonehill and take aim at the small herbivores. The city will use their carcasses as food for animals at the Joburg Zoo.
The City of Joburg’s deputy director of biodiversity and open space planning, Tenda Mathagu, said the animals were decimating indigenous edible plants in their severely reduced natural habitat, forcing them to venture further into suburban gardens where they were damaging garden plants, structures, “and in extreme cases terrorising and inconveniencing residents”.
But in April, Mathagu stated that “dassies and humans are here to stay” and humans and dassies must form a relationship. “Residents cannot simply pick up pitchforks and torches to rid the area of the animals. We cannot simply cull dassies.”
The city, he said, would first look at measures such as translocation and contraception and reserve culling as a last resort.
Fast forward to this week, and the dassies have to be killed by September, before the rainy season starts. It appears, too, that the NSPCA has not been consulted.
We have our own Joburg ways of dealing with problematic critters. In 2008, when a family of six dassies made their home inside the engine compartment of a BMW, the Paulshof owner went for a high-speed jaunt down the highway to get rid of them. When that didn’t work, she rushed to a car wash to flush them out.
After that incident, Dominic Moss, of the Joburg Zoo, said the zoo had come to the rescue of an increasing number of dassies in urban areas “as townhouse developments continue to encroach on the animals’ natural habitat, rocky outcrops, in areas like Lonehill and Sandton”.
Ironic isn’t it, that the city’s dassies are now being used to feed the zoo.
Maybe Helen Zille will welcome our unwanted dassies as refugees in Cape Town.