City’s urban poach plague

KAREN WATKINS

Dozens of animals are being poached from Cape Town nature reserves every month warns the City of Cape Town’s Environmental Resource Management Department.

Poachers put down snares and traps and sometimes even go as far as packhunting with dogs. It is estimated that dozens of animals are targeted and caught every month, including porcupines, grysbok, hares and steenbok. Caracal and mongoose are also hunted.

This is proven by the decrease or even absence of these and other animals at some of the sites, including Tokai Park.

Some animals are hunted for their meat and others for their horns, hooves or organs.

In the aftermath of the fires last March, SPCA inspectors were surprised to find wire animal traps, one with the charred remains of a porcupine in its snares in the Constantia Valley (“Animals trapped”, Bulletin, March 19, 2015).

Now red flags have been raised over organisations which are advertising packwalking.

On Valley Pet Connection, a closed group on Facebook which has more than 300 members, the owner of a pet care business – whose name is known to the Bulletin – is advertising off-leash packwalking . “It will be local and not strenuous as we will have some pups coming along. It’s a chance to meet some new people with similar interests, hike in a large safe group and spend some time exercising out in nature all while being with your dogs,” she wrote.

Another person offering pack walks on Facebook is a Hout Bay dog trainer, whose identity is also known to the Bulletin. From pictures posted on his site, it appears that he is walking the dogs in the burnt area of mountain above Hout Bay that was closed at the time.

Brett Glasby of the Westlake-based Four Paws Animal Welfare Foundation said a regular problem encountered in Cape Town nature reserves is that groups of men use dogs for hunting purposes. Also Four Paws regularly collect snares on the borders of the national park as well as several of the smaller reserves.

He said hunting and most of the snares are set by homeless or indigent people hoping to feed themselves and their families.

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Mr Glasby said there have been unconfirmed reports from the northern suburbs of these men taking more game than needed and placing bets on whose dogs will take down the largest animal or the most animals.

Mr Glasby said when dogs are off-leash and in a pack it is standard behaviour for them to all join in a hunt if one of the animals gives chase.

Carly Cowell, regional ecologist with SANParks said while she is not a qualified dog trainer she has worked with trainers and her own K9 in training (K9 is a dog used in finding tortoises and rare plants).

Ms Cowell said dogs are pack animals, they hunt in packs like wolves and as such they are geared to this. “When walking in a group this instinct can be triggered and the ‘pack mentality’ sets in, even with very well trained dogs. It may just be that walking dogs, off-leash, in larger packs, more than three, could trigger this reaction and they chase or hunt something in a natural area.”

SPCA CEO Allan Perrins confirmed this saying if just one dog decides to chase an animal when they are off-leash and in a pack it would be natural behaviour for all to follow. He said pack dynamics can also lead to aggressive behaviour both within the pack and towards any other dog the pack happens to come upon.

Mr Perrins said in terms of the Animals Protection Act, “It is against the law to incite your animal to attack another (wild or otherwise) or to release your animal in any place where there is a risk of immediate attack by another animal.”

Mr Perrins said packwalking should be undertaken by professionals who are able to identify and correct undesirable behaviour effectively and efficiently in order to minimise the risks to animals within the pack as well as other animals in the surrounds.

Mr Perrins said the snares they found after the fires were in the Groot Constantia area. They have had no other reports of traps being set up in this area but would appreciate reports from the public in this regard.

According to the City, there are currently groups that hunt with large packs of dogs on the False Bay coastline between the Zandvlei Nature Reserve and the Macasser Dunes Conservation Area.

Since the beginning of the year six arrests have been made. The City said hunting methods involved in the poaching are considered inhumane and result in considerable loss of our natural heritage.

They are urging residents to work with the City and to report illegal hunting or suspicious activity to their nearest law enforcement or nature conservation office. A tip-off could lead to an arrest and any arrest of poachers will be a significant achievement for nature conservation.

Despite numerous attempts by the Bulletin to get a response from the owner of the pet care business and the dog trainer, we were unable to do so by the time this edition went to print.

BLOB Report suspicious activity or poachers to the Environmental Emergency Response on 083 499 1717. Reports can be made anonymously via the SPCA website wwwcapespca.co.za or call 021 700 4158/9 during office hours or 083 326 1604 after hours.

Sidebar

The SPCA advise animal owners to ensure that their animals are well socialised and amenable to walking in a pack before engaging in this activity.

If packwalking is taking place off-leash, first ensure that you are in an area that has been specifically designated for this purpose, failing which you may be in contravention of the City of Cape Town’s Animal By-Laws.

Secondly, ensure that only animals that are well socialised, have had obedience training and can obey recall commands be allowed to walk off-leash, in a pack or independently.

Risks to be aware of with regards to packwalking:

The more dogs being walked, the greater the possibility of a dog getting loose and in the event of this happening, the walker would be unable to chase the runaway animal.

Packwalking may involve dogs of various sizes and there is a risk of over exertion to young animals and small animals when being walked with larger breeds.

It can take just one alpha dog to set the rest of the group off on a trial of undesirable behaviour.

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