Ezemvelo accused of killing 59 healthy monkeys in ’cold blood’
Durban - A well-known animal rescue and rehabilitation operator was forced to bring an urgent High Court against Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to prevent any further “cold blooded” killing of animals in her care.
Ezemvelo, the conservation custodians in the province, euthanised 59 monkeys it removed from Tracy Rowles’ Umsizi Umkomaas Vervet Rescue on Monday.
Rowles, also known as the “Monkey Lady”, claimed Ezemvelo entered her premises without her permission and did not have the necessary legal authority to remove the animals from her sanctuary.
She accused Ezemvelo’s “capture team” of being “aggressive” and that their “cruel” conduct unsettled the animals, including “Marty”, an alpha male in one of the troops housed at the facility.
Marty suffered a head injury during the commotion and died later that day.
Ezemvelo maintained the removal of the animals was in accordance with the law as they were being kept at an “illegal” facility that did not have the necessary operating permit, which had been an old issue.
Rowles, represented by attorney Tashya Giyapersad, outlined her efforts and challenges in acquiring the required permit for Umsizi, in the urgent court application handled by the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
Ezemvelo, the MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, the SPCA (Amanzimtoti), KZN’s premier and the eThekwini Municipality were the respondents.
Rowles, the chairperson of Umsizi, said the facility specialised in the rescue and rehabilitation of vervet monkeys.
She made a permit application with Ezemvelo in November 2018, and reapplied two months later, which was acknowledged by an Ezemvelo official, who promised her feedback.
Rowles claims to date she has not received a response to her application.
Nearly two months ago, a delegation comprising officials from Ezemvelo, the SPCA and eThekwini health and building inspectors visited her sanctuary, and she was told she had 21 days to remove the 117 monkeys and their cages from the facility.
That’s because she had purportedly contravened Section 80 (1) of the Nature Conservation Ordinance 15 of 1974, which related to the seizure and capture of Illegally kept animals.
eThekwini notified Rowles on February 19 she had contravened municipal bylaws by keeping monkeys at her property, zoned special residential 900.
Another eThekwini notice followed about the structural cracks at her property, which were deemed dangerous to life and property.
Rowles explained that walls of adjacent homes had also experienced cracking because of land subsidence in the area.
Giyapersad wrote to Ezemvelo and requested a meeting of all relevant stakeholders as Umsizi had found new premises and needed time to relocate the animals.
On March 3, Ezemvelo said they didn’t see the purpose for such a meeting and advised Umsizi to comply with the served notice or legal avenues would be used to remedy the situation.
Giyapersad responded that the sudden closure of Umsizi would result in the death of the animals and her client needed time to relocate.
Therefore, a meeting was necessary to receive assistance and guidance from Ezemvelo and eThekwini.
Rowles said, to date, no response was received.
She emphasised that Ezemvelo, the SPCA and eThekwini were familiar with her operations.
The local Craigieburn Municipality and residents often call on Umsizi’s services and their relationship with Ezemvelo was good, with the conservation entity also bringing monkeys to them, until two years ago.
Rowles claimed no vet was present during Monday’s removal.
She was taken to the local police station where she was issued with a court date regarding Umsizi’s failure to comply with a demand and housing vervet monkeys without the required permit.
She said an Ezemvelo official told her that they did not have a warrant for moving the animals, and he refused to tell her where they were being moved to.
Rowles said Ezemvelo and the SPCA were “ill prepared” for the safe removal of the monkeys as they were without the appropriate boxes to contain the animals, which needed to be overseen by a vet. During the journey, several stops would have been needed to cool and feed water to the animals, but that did not happen.
Representatives from Giyapersad’s office followed the vehicle transporting the monkeys as far as Ballito, but backed off when the truck’s driver allegedly became aggressive and reckless on the road.
Rowles suspected the animals were going to be put down, and lodged her court application.
While Rowles was not able to prevent that eventuality, Judge Piet Koen ruled on Thursday that Ezemvelo and others were interdicted from removing any further monkeys until the matter returns to court on May 5. He further ruled that Marty’s corpse, if still available, be returned to Rowles, for a post mortem to be done.
Rowles has learnt that Marty’s remains were cremated.
Giyapersad said the court victory was small, but bittersweet because Ezemvelo was interdicted from removing any further monkeys, but they had already killed “in cold blood” healthy animals, in spite of Umsizi’s permit application still being pending.
“This has resulted in a large mainstream movement which has brought the animal rescue and welfare world together for the first time to fight injustice perpetrated by Ezemvelo against Umsizi.”
Giyapersad said in the coming weeks, there will be further applications brought against Ezemvelo to deal with the series of events that unfolded on Monday.
Musa Mntambo, Ezemvelo’s communications manager, said they welcomed the judgment because it would allow them time to finalise other processes for the relocation of other monkeys at Umsizi.
He confirmed that 59 monkeys were taken on Monday to the iMfolozi Game Reserve where they were put down, in accordance with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines for the Placement of Confiscated Animals.
He said they consulted with experts who considered factors like each animal’s age, physical structure, sex, and medical condition, before culling and burying them.
Mntambo said the consulting team that assisted with the removal, first assessed the property, including five enclosures, before going ahead.
They were generally concerned about the overall condition of the enclosures, and one in particular that had large nails protruding from walls, rotting roofing and broken floorboards.
He stated captured monkeys were placed in boxes that ensured their safety, and that Ezemvelo would continue to confiscate animals that are kept without official permits.