The fire that started on the mountains and burnt one of the houses in Ebizweni Lodge in Somerset West. Picture: Phando Jikelo/Cape Times

Cape Town - As fire swept toward the facility, a caregiver at the Cavendish Primate Sanctuary allegedly opened the cages of an adult orangutan, four baboons and 38 Vervet monkeys, the SPCA said in a statement.

SPCA CEO Allan Perrins has appealed to the public to contact the SPCA immediately should they spot the animals, as he feared that “they won’t run into the wild but visit residences for food. And what would the residents do when faced with marauding monkeys and baboons and a huge orangutan?

“The sooner we can locate and trap the animals the better because it is worrying not knowing how they will react under duress. They must be quite scared and traumatised after enduring the heat and smoke of the fire,” he said.

“This is the most unique rescue we have ever been involved in. We have to locate and capture and decide, in partnership with Cape Nature Reserve, on how we will repatriated the animals into sanctuaries in the regions they are indigenous to. The Vervet monkeys are not indigenous to the Western Cape and the orangutan is indigenous to Borneo and Sumatra,” he said.

Besides fears that the baboons may have a strain of TB which are transferable to humans, the SPCA also fears they may head to Monkeyland on the N2 and could possibly contaminate the animals there.

The Animal Welfare Forum and Cape Nature Conservation are all on high alert and a veterinarian armed with a dart gun is on standby, ready to dart the animals once they are located and to bring them in to “purposeful enclosures" at the SPCA's Grassy Park headquarters, Perrins said.

“It is likely that the owner of the sanctuary did not have permission to keep the animals in captivity, especially not an orangutan that is an endangered animal. It is likely that the person will be prosecuted by Cape Nature Conservation. The SPCA is certainly opposed to returning the animals to the owner and we will do everything possible to repatriate them to suitable sanctuaries,” he said.

While the fires were raging, SPCA rescue crews also brought to safety over a hundred sheep, cattle, horses, pigs and dogs and are waiting for the all-clear from Western Cape Disaster Risk Management to return them to their homes.

* Perrins requested that the public contact 083 326 1604 (after hours) and 021 700 4158/9 (during working hours) if they spot any of the animals.