Durban - Thousands of homeowners and landowners could soon become liable for stiff fines for keeping or failing to control thousands of alien invader plants, animals, birds and other creatures.
The new national list of more than 1 000 alien invasive or prohibited creatures includes dozens of common garden plants and grasses, more than a dozen birds, two dozen reptiles and a long list of smaller nunus, such as crazy ants, red imported fire ants, pink-toed tarantulas and “kiss of death” bacteria.
The draft regulations published in the Government Gazette recently for public comment also provide for maximum fines of R5-million or five years in jail.
While the main aim is to prevent more alien invader species coming into South Africa, the new draft laws are intended to arrest the spread of potentially “devastating” species. These include “famine weed”, a toxic Central American plant that is spreading rapidly through KwaZulu-Natal, and weeds such as the water hyacinth that can spread out to cover double its original area within less than 10 days, killing fish as it sucks up water and oxygen.
The Department of Environmental Affairs said some alien microbes posed a particular challenge as they created a major disease risk for people, plants and animals.
“There are uncountable billions of specimens of almost 1 000 listed invasive species already within South Africa. By their nature, invasive species invade. They spread and grow, and the situation quickly deteriorates, and can reach a threshold point of no return.
“Estimates have put the impact of invasive species on the economy at hundreds of billions of rand and without controls the costs would rapidly escalate as the invasives spread and grow… South Africa has only been able to eradicate one invasive species – a snail – thus far. Over R1-billion is spent on combating invasive species each year and this is why we need to take action to prevent new introductions, and to combat existing alien species,” the department said.
Some of the common plants listed include jacaranda, Brazilian pepper and African Flame trees, guavas, granadillas, kikuyu grass, several types of cactus plants, Indian shot (canna) and sword ferns.
The list contains 14 invasive bird species, including Indian mynahs, Indian house crows, house sparrows, rose-ringed parakeets and Eurasian starlings.
There are 24 reptiles, including rattlesnakes, pythons and certain types of terrapins, chameleons and geckoes and 17 freshwater fish that include trout, carp, bass and perch.
Invasive species are classified into four different categories. Category 1a (including hydrilla, water poppy and yellow water lily) are defined as species that can be brought under control quickly.
Category 1b (including Indian shot, Queen of the Night, pompom weed, chromolaena, pampas grass, water hyacinth, jacaranda, lantana, prickly pear, Kariba weed and Indian mynahs) are deemed to be among the most harmful.
Category 2 (wattles, agaves, guavas, several Eucalyptus and pine species) are those considered to have commercial value and can be grown in demarcated areas.
Category 3 (including loquats, English ivy, Seringa, umbrella pine, African Flame tree and tree tomatoes) are defined as “less harmful” species.
Some plants have been categorised differently in different provinces.
For example, the Brazilian pepper tree is classified as a category 1b “harmful” species in KZN, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, but as a category 3 “less harmful” species in the other five provinces.
Jacarandas are classified as category 1b in KZN and three other provinces (but only outside urban areas, where they are exempted from new regulations).
Rainbow and brown trout and some other freshwater fish species have been treated according to a “nuanced approach”, says the department. For example, trout are listed variously in category 2 in some areas such as national parks and mountain catchment areas (and cannot be caught and released in these areas), whereas elsewhere in the country they are not categorised but still cannot be released into dams unless they have been documented there previously.
Responding to queries on how the new regulations could be policed, the deputy director of environmental programmes, Dr Guy Preston, said 30 bio-security officers had been trained last year by the national Department of Environmental Affairs and there were plans to double this capacity this year.
His department also hoped to enlist the help of other national, provincial and local government departments to ensure an effective monitoring and enforcement capacity.
While the regulations provided for a maximum fine of R5m, the department could also issue directives to landowners to control the spread of alien invasions.
“The fines are options to be used, but the sanction must fit the problem,” he said.
The public has 30 days (from February 12) to comment on the draft regulations. - The Mercury