Theft a threat to species survival

The Grootboskloof Fynbos veld circle.

Threatened plant species in Tokai Park could be wiped out if nothing is done to stop people stealing them, warn environmentalists.

Protea and vygie seedlings were stolen from Tokai Park last month, said botanical ecologist Caitlin von Witt who apprehended a man carrying a bag with the plants at the Grootboskloof Fynbos Veld Circle on the Constantia Green Belt on Tuesday July 25.

Dr Von Witt, the founder at the Grootboskloof Fynbos Veld Circle, said the man admitted he had taken them to sell.

The man had also started stealing roses from the banks next to the Grooboskloof River and was about to steal more locally indigenous plants at the Grootboskloof Fynbos Veld Circle before he was caught, she said.

It was not clear where and to whom he sold the plants, but their prospects for survival were bleak unless they were potted immediately, she said.

The vygies were replanted at Tokai by Dr Von Witt and Friends of Tokai Park chairman Dr Tony Rebelo on Thursday July 27,
but the proteas, which would have died if planted, were taken to a fynbos nursery to be nurtured to health, for planting out next spring.

Dr Rebelo said if plants were being stolen a few times a week, or even once a week for the spring, the species would soon be wiped out despite attempts to restore them at Tokai because they were under threat.

Dr Rebelo said the plants appeared to have been simply pulled out, so there were not any obvious signs of digging or soil disruption.

He had noticed in the past that a few protea seedlings had disappeared, but had assumed they had died, he said. He pleaded with the public to be on the lookout for people stealing plants from Tokai, or selling suspicious plants that might be from the Table Mountain National Park.

He said that it was only by luck that this poaching had been detected.

Theft of locally indigenous plants has been a recurring problem in the area despite efforts to restore vegetation.

The Grootboskloof Fynbos Veld Circle is one of the projects trying to restore fynbos vegetation.

The veld circle was previously called the Grootboskloof Mandala and was Dr Von Witt’s brainchild (“Green mandala crafted for greenbelt,” Constantiaberg Bulletin, June 7 2018).

A mandala, or “circle” in Sanskrit, represents the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism.

The project, which began work in June 2018 and opened in December 2018, in collaboration between FynbosLife, the City’s recreation and parks department, the Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelts and WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) was started to reconnect people with nature.

Dr Von Witt’s 350m2 design uses the shape of a flower to exhibit indigenous plants in circular patterns.

She said although the project still drew on the symbolism of a mandala (as a healthy fynbos ecosystem), the name was changed to “FundaFynbos veld circles” to avoid any religious connotations.

“It was very important to me that the project is fully accessible to all. This new, more inclusive title has been well accepted and will be the project name going forward.”

The veld circle’s purpose is to bridge the divide between suburbia and rural wilderness through ecologically sound public biodiversity gardens, bringing the “wild” back into the cities and everyday life.

“It’s about connections and bringing people together, including children, celebrating the link between the land, people and nature,” Dr Von Witt said.

Since its opening in December 2018, the Grootboschkloof Fynbos Veld Circle has attracted garden clubs and horticultural groups, hiking clubs and children’s birthday parties, in addition to regular walkers and cyclists.

The Sweet Valley Primary Eco-Club adopted it as a biodiversity and nature project and a group owf residents from the neighbouring Constantia Hills suburb helps with maintenance.

Sweet Valley Primary School head of department Ruth Koopman said the school had blended the veld circle into its curriculum.

“Because of the fynbos circle, we have now also started to relook at our own gardens at school and focus on making them more indigenous. It is not only an area where we have been able to learn, but also an area for leisure time.”

Trevor Waries, from the City of Cape Town’s coastal management department, said the veld circle was an outside classroom open to all.

“The plants here – sour figs, pelargoniums, cone bush – this is the stuff that kids on the Cape Flats may see but not know. So if classrooms like this could be expanded all over Cape Town that would be a great thing.”

Dr Von Witt said the veld circle project also started work last month on expanding to Muizenberg, where FynbosLife will break ground on a Strandveld Circle, in partnership with the City of Cape Town.

It’s expected to open in November.