iSimangaliso – help us care for our wild residents

12 Dec 2016

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s 332 000ha of marine and terrestrial protected World Heritage Site, encompassing one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, is home to thousands of animal, fish, bird and other species.

Unfortunately poaching and snaring are constant threats throughout protected areas in Africa and iSimangaliso is no exception. With increasing human pressure, drought and unemployment in rural areas around parks, and 80% of iSimangaliso’s neighbours living below the poverty line, circumstances inevitably lead to increased incursions. Compliance activities include regular awareness programmes and law enforcement as managers work towards proving the benefits of conservation and associated tourism activities as playing a valuable economic role.

Active patrols by dedicated park rangers are essential to monitor the situation on the ground. Poaching levels have been reduced over the past decade but while poverty, a tightening economy and greed remain drivers, this will not be easily eliminated. Snaring remains a constant threat – snares are particularly evil contraptions causing prolonged suffering and misery to the animals caught in them, which, even if they manage to escape, may have parts of the wire attached and continuing to constrict part of their bodies. It is here especially, where members of the public can be of great assistance in speeding up the rescue of afflicted animals they may encounter at waterholes or in the veld.

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During October, uMkhuze visitors Barry and Celia Coleman happened to spot and photograph a young elephant with a herd, drinking at the kuMasinga Hide, with what appeared to be a snare on its lip. They showed these photographs to iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis who had introduced himself to them while undertaking an inspection.

The following day, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife monitors were sent out to try and locate the calf which they successfully managed to do and relay the information to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr Dave Cooper. At first light the next morning they re-confirmed the position, and Cooper was flown by anti-poaching pilot Menno Buyze to the area where the herd was seen. Some skilled flying was required to try and coax the elephants out of the tree cover and eventually separate mom and calf from the rest. Cooper managed to dart the pair and land nearby. The sedated animals were only down for a couple of minutes while he checked for the snare, and once close up he established that it was in fact an old wound and fortunately the snare wire had been dislodged and was no longer in place. The wound had healed well, leaving a pink mark but with no other lasting effects. The calf was woken up and sent back to mom and the herd, no worse for wear.

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It is always a tricky thing to deal with a baby in the midst of a breeding herd; probably one of the most dangerous interventions there is. So much could go wrong – but the extensive experience of the team certainly helps and it was 100% on the day.

Numerous incidents of man-induced injuries are dealt with annually by Dave Cooper and rangers, in almost every type of animal from hippo or crocodile to antelope, elephant, giraffe, cheetah, wild dog or rhino. A well-known hippo in the Lake St Lucia Estuary, famous for his diurnal wanderings around St Lucia town, is nicknamed ‘Scarface’ as he sports a vivid stripe across his snout from an old snare.

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Animals found with snares on them include a giraffe and wild dog at uMkhuze and a hippo in the Lake St Lucia Estuary section.

While Park rangers and staff are always vigilant for injured animals, iSimangaliso Park Operations Director Sizo Sibiya says, “it is a huge help when visitors add to our eyes and ears on the ground, and bring to our attention any sightings of snared or injured wildlife so that these can be investigated. Clear photographs and accurate locations are always of great assistance in following up on such incidents.”

As the busy season approaches we ask that the public continues to be on the lookout for injuries or other incidents, which may be reported to the Park’s 24-hour emergency line 082 797 7944.

Media enquiries should be directed to Bronwyn Coppola +27 83 450 9111 or bronwyn@abetterworld.co.za.