SPCA says firework display at the V&A Waterfront left gulls, seals distressed

Cape Town's famous New Year's Eve fireworks display at the V&A Waterfront went ahead as scheduled after a court in the Western Cape dismissed the SPCA's attempt to halt it. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Cape Town's famous New Year's Eve fireworks display at the V&A Waterfront went ahead as scheduled after a court in the Western Cape dismissed the SPCA's attempt to halt it. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 3, 2024


While the V&A Waterfront entertained more than 100 000 revellers with its New Year’s Eve fireworks display, Cape of Good Hope SPCA inspectors said they witnessed animals in the vicinity in distress as a result of the loud noises.

This comes as safety and security Mayco member JP Smith dismissed allegations that the City donated R500 000 towards the 5-minute display, saying the grant made to the V&A Waterfront was for overall festivities.

The City’s environmental health initially declined the popular tourism destination a noise exemption certificate in relation to the fireworks but it appealed the decision and was given the green light by the municipal manager Lungelo Mbandazayo.

Animal welfare activists approached the Western Cape High Court for urgent intervention against the V&A but lost its bid.

“The noise exemption certificate was awarded, with strict conditions, including that the pyrotechnic display may not exceed the period of 5 minutes. The valid debate about why we should no longer be supporting fireworks displays has unfortunately been marred by false information, as can be expected within a run-up to any election period.

“The event funding that has been allocated through the Special Events Committee (Spevco) is not, and was never for that to be used to fund any fireworks display.

“The grant made to the V&A Waterfront was not for fireworks but in fact as part of their overall New Year’s Eve festivities, intended to attract thousands of attendees.

“This includes the events department assisting with providing services of audio and vision equipment, staging and large-screen viewing areas to cater for the complete event line-up of various artists and musicians, as we do with festivals and events across the city. The narrative being created that the City is in fact funding the fireworks display is disingenuous and purposefully designed to create friction between animal-lovers and the City,” said Smith.

Smith added that he was part of engagements with the V&A Waterfront’s management to move away from the use of fireworks during festivities and instead seek to adopt a more humane and spectacular display such as electronic synchronised LED drone displays.

V&A spokesperson Donald Kau said: “We had a successful day of trading and with visitors coming to enjoy the New Year’s programme of entertainment around 150 000 people came through the Waterfront for the day. The day and evening event went by without any major incidents being recorded.”

According to the SPCA, it was inundated with calls both on New Year’s Eve and Tuesday due to terrified and injured animals that bore the brunt of festive fireworks.

Its inspectors were on site at the V&A Waterfront to monitor marine birds, seals and all other wildlife in the immediate area.

“Our inspectors reported seeing marine bird pandemonium erupt as the fireworks display started. Hundreds of Hartlaub’s gulls took to the air and were seen colliding with one another mid-air in fear and confusion at the cacophony of loud banging noises.

“On the V&A‘s Seal Platform, an area of refuge provided for Cape fur seals to seek permanent shelter and protection, 22 slumbering seals were jarred awake into sudden panic by the fireworks and noise erupting all around them and were seen barking and biting each other in a panic to escape the noise. They were hesitant to flee into the sea, unsure if the danger (as they perceived it) was in the water or on land. They decided to stay put on their platform instead and cowered in the corner together,” said SPCA spokesperson Belinda Abraham.

SPCA wildlife department supervisor Jon Friedman, who was monitoring the seals, said it was heartbreaking to witness the animals scared into flight or fight mode in response to a danger they had no idea how to handle.

Elsewhere, Knysna and George municipalities prohibited the discharge of any fireworks, firearms, air guns or air pistols on any premises or any street or public places such as beaches.

Cape Times