Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

A NEW threat has emerged in the beleaguered ostrich industry – feather poachers.

The industry has been hamstrung for the past two years by an export ban slapped on South African ostrich meat in April 2011 after an outbreak of avian flu.

And now ostrich strippers are creeping into fields at night to rip the feathers from the live birds.

To date 50 percent of ostrich farmers have left the industry because of the crippling impact of the export ban, with job losses on farms and in related industries.

Piet Kleyn, head of the SA Ostrich Business Chamber, said the price of ostrich feathers had gone up recently.

This might be a reason for the sudden appearance of feather thieves.

“It’s quite a problem at the moment. They pluck the birds at night. Some get injured and some are killed. They pluck them in a bad way so the birds get messed up badly.

“This is a new type of thing which we are not used to.

“Normally the birds are plucked in the slaughter factory after they are stunned.

“It’s not a problem if it’s done in the correct manner and if the birds are ready for plucking, then little harm is done.

“But these villains attack the birds when the feathers are not ready and it’s quite a mess, with the birds bleeding. And they kill some of them,” Kleyn said.

The police are investigating the matter. Kleyn said it appeared to be a well-organised group.

The provincial government’s research farm in Oudtshoorn has been one of the hardest hit.

Researcher Stefan Engelbrecht of the research farm said yesterday they had had the first attack by feather thieves about four or five weeks ago and another one recently. About 70 birds had been plucked and four had been bludgeoned to death.

“This is the first time we’re seeing this. It’s happened to us twice now, and it’s also happened on three other farms that I know of,” Engelbrecht said.

Because the feathers that had been ripped from the ostriches were still “green” – not ready for plucking – the birds had bled.