Cape Town - 100212 -letters Club Mykanos - Langebaan - West Coast - Dassies (rock rabbits) enjoying the last heat from the sun and the rocks up above the harbour in Langebaan- Photo: Mathew Jordaan

Thousands of Joburg’s dassies are to be culled by professional marksmen and their carcasses used as a food source for animals in Johannesburg Zoo.

The cull will happen in the next couple of weeks ahead of the September rainy season.

The city has obtained a permit from the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to cull thousands of small herbivores in several nature reserves because of the damage they are causing, not only to the environment but to people’s homes.

According to the council, some animals will be trapped and euthanised. After health inspections, they will be used as food for animals in the zoo or for other conservation projects.

The affected areas are Fourways Gardens, Mondeor, Klipriviersberg, Norscot, Glenvista and Lonehill.

City of Joburg deputy director of biodiversity and open space planning Tendamudzimu Mathagu said the city had received numerous complaints about damage caused by rock hyraxes (dassies) to homes.

Land use change had resulted in residential properties encroaching into the habitats of some mammal species, he said.

Dassies live in colonies, generally within rocky outcrops where they use crevices for shelter. They forage in groups and rarely venture far from their refuge sites, except when their food sources are limited.

“The growth in development and loss of natural open spaces over the past years has resulted in the remaining dassie populations being put under pressure because of the absence of a natural habitat to absorb expanding populations,” said Mathagu.

“The situation has also been worsened by the feeding of these wild animals by humans.”

According to Mathagu, the dassies have decimated indigenous edible plants in their severely reduced natural habitat, forcing them to venture further into surrounding residential properties in search of food and shelter.

“In their foraging they are causing severe damage to garden plants, structures, and, in extreme cases, terrorising and inconveniencing residents,” he said, adding that there were health concerns when humans and wildlife lived in close proximity to each other.

The dassie populations were way above the carrying capacity of the municipal nature reserves and other natural open spaces within the city.

“The current indications suggest that while some of the dassies venturing into residential areas are merely foraging for food, but still reside within their natural habitat, other groups have taken up permanent residence within residential areas, sometimes in drains, or roofs or even houses,” said Mathagu.

“The current situation is not sustainable for either the dassies or affected residents, and the city is obliged to implement certain management actions to address the problem.”

The city had consulted specialists about humane management options.

Improved fencing and other containment strategies would merely worsen the situation for the dassies, as they would no longer be able to forage outside their nature reserves.

“The dassie populations have to be drastically reduced to allow these reserves to recover from the pressure they have been exposed to over several years,” said Mathagu.

Options that had been considered but ruled out included trapping, poisoning and repellents.

Residents around nature reserves would be encouraged to make fences as dassie-proof as possible, but they may be required to hire a pest controller to remove individuals or colonies from ceilings and sheds.

Conservation specialist Paul Fairall, who was involved in the consultative process, said an assessment of the dassies’ available food source must be done.

Solutions must be a balance of culling, relocation and birth control.

“Only these steps can lead to the humane management of a very serious problem,” he said. - The Star