ON A recent snare-hunt in Bluewater Bay’s Aloe Nature Reserve, the hunters found a blue duiker, trapped and dead, strangled in a wire noose. These beautiful little animals used to be abundant in the Aloe, Flamingo and Swartkops reserves in the Swartops estuary area, Zwartkops Conservancy spokesman Jenny Rump says. But now there are fewer and fewer, due to poaching. Other common victims of the snaring and pack dog hunting are grysbok and scrubhare.
The Zwartkops Conservancy has for years been involved in taking groups from disadvantaged schools into these reserves on "teaching trails”. Their Masifundisane Program runs regular term time lessons aided by the Wildlife and Environment Society (Wessa), the metro and Algoa Bus. The help from the bus company allows them to transport 60 pupils and teachers twice a month. For the intervening days, the conservancy finds other sponsors to help.
A Herald Citizen of the Year, Rump and her team have trained two teachers who do the teaching in Xhosa. Pupils are broken up into groups and each has a teacher to walk the trail with them and show them animals and plants and explain basic environmental issues like global warming and erosion. The excursions also visit the Motherwell stormwater canal to learn about pollution dangers and what can be done to prevent it.
For the core part of the programme, the teaching on the trails through the reserves, it is vital to stop the snaring, Rump says. Having been gifted with such a valuable learning experience, these kids need to actually see the animals – the life in the web of life they are learning about.
Besides the trail teaching programme, the conservancy has been organising snare hunts for the last decade, with the support of the metro and enthusiastic school and community groups.
Rump says what upsets her most is that often the poachers do not check their snares, raising the question of just how dire their need is. Snare hunters have on several occasions found dead buck, the carcass too old and rotten to eat, or even just the bones.
Clues suggest the culprits behind the present spate of snaring are either residents of nearby Wells Estate, or from the Bluewater Bay tip dweller community or from contractor teams building houses in the new section of the Bluewater Bay.
To address the steadily worsening problem, snare hunting needs to be a continuing task of the authorities on a frequent basis, she says. Unfortunately, it is clear there are not enough rangers and little likelihood that more will be added. Discussions with the metro have pointed to only one solution: as in the Baakens valley where the metro has partnered with Wessa, the conservancy is going to have to raise money to fund more rangers for the Swartkops reserves, who will then be managed by the metro.
With the conservancy already battling severe pollution in the estuary, this is going to be a huge challenge, she says.
Metro reserve co-manager Clyde Scott confirms the seriousness of the situation. Besides the six Baakens partnership rangers, he and his co-manager have nine rangers to protect 11 reserves, he told me. The Aloe reserve alone is 150ha. The targets are different in the different reserves and include bushbuck, kudu and bushpig but anything that moves is in danger.
The metro itself has an eco-educational unit that is doing good work but a partnership is urgently needed to improve manpower, he says.
Help may be at hand. On Tuesday, I contacted the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) which, I recalled, had contributed to the influx of people into Wells Estate. When the industrial development zone was established, Coega folk were forced to move there, leaving their small stock farming and aloe gathering livelihoods behind them. Was it not the corporation’s responsibility to help counter the poaching, which could be indirectly linked to this legacy, I asked.
CDC spokesman Ayanda Vilakazi said the corporation had complied with all their pledges to the community, and most of them are now employed on the IDZ.
However, the corporation will be happy to consider a proposal on a possible partnership to combat the Swartkops poaching, he says.
Our municipal reserves could be the jewels in the crown for us – for recreation and tourism, to secure free ecosystem services like clean water, as a bulwark against climate change. They could resurrect a great marketing tool we have never properly flagged: we are the Five Biome City, with greater wild plant and animal diversity than any other metro in the world.