Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
22 October 2000

By Chris Mercer and beverly Pervan, [email protected]

Authors of the book For the Love of Wildlife
submitted by Merritt Clifton - [email protected]

The Kalahari Raptor Centre is a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. It is also the only registered wildlife rehabilitation centre in the Northern Cape province, which is a vast province covering one-third of the country.

On Saturday, October 14, 2000 we sent the following letter by fax to the department of Nature Conservation of the Northern Cape Province in Kimberley:

Dear Sirs:

Further to our previous general application for permits to provide sanctuary to predators, there has been a subsequent development.

On Wednesday we received a phone call from a farmer who stated that he had captured three young caracals after trapping their mother and killing her. He felt sorry for the young animals but said that if we could not take them he would have to put them down. We made an arrangement in pursuance of which I drove to a small place called Nonieputs (over a thousand kilometers round trip) to fetch them. One of the three had a broken fore leg and I took her straight to the veterinarian in Kuruman, Dr. van der Westhuizen, who attended to the leg and immobilized it.

We are thus presently caring for three young caracals, one of which is disabled. We wish to use them for the education of schoolchildren who visit our center, and for the benefit of tourists, who like to photograph these exquisite little predators. We have no intention of allowing the public to handle them. We propose to build for them a large camp with high electrified fencing, where they may live out as happy a life as possible. We thought that the natural veld near the present vulture restaurant would give them a pleasant site with a view out over the veld and plenty of camelthorn trees for shade.

Alternatively, once they are a little older and stronger, do you have any wilderness in mind where we could release them back into the wild?

Our book For the Love of Wildlife will be out shortly, dedicated to the waning spirit of wild Africa and its purest elements, the predators with whom mankind refuses to live, or let live. We hope that you will have no trouble giving us a permit to care for these beautiful, much-persecuted animals.

Yours truly,
Chris Mercer
Kalahari Raptor Centre

The response, in bold print with much underlining, was a categorical refusal of the application; a notice of the department's intention to institute a prosecution; and an invitation to a meeting to "discuss the renewal of existing permits and to reconsider the future of the Kalahari Raptor Centre."

The department intends to apply a piece of apartheid-era legislation called the Problem Animal Control Ordinance, which is a chilling reminder of the days when all laws and policies were framed to protect the narrow commercial interests of a tiny minority, the Afrikaans farming community, at the expense of the population at large.

The Problem Animal Control Ordinance of 1974 is a Declaration of war upon, and an extermination program for, two species of wildlife: the black-backed jackal and the caracal (lynx). Both these species are invaluable to a healthy natural ecosystem by keeping down numbers of rodents and other pests -- but when farmers create a prey-desert for them by hunting guinea fowl and springhares, predators will turn their attention to the livestock farmers' lambs.

Any attempt to harbor or care for these alleged enemies of the State is strictly verboten. For example, any motorist who stops to pick up an injured caracal kitten to take her to a veterinarian commits a crime. He must kill the little animal forthwith, and then bury the body, or he is guilty of yet another offense.

Wildlife sanctuaries, and this would include economically important eco-tourism resorts, are treated by the law as an illegal breeding ground for vermin. Draconian measures are provided to prevent any show of kindness to the enemy. The local livestock farmers' association and its military wing, the provincial nature conservation department, are granted the power to behave like Robert Mugabe's thugs in Zimbabwe and carry out an armed invasion of the sanctuary, featuring men on horseback supported by packs of dogs which are provided by the South African taxpayer. (Until recent financial stringency brought this abomination to an end, the provincial nature conservation departments used public funds to import hounds from overseas. In the Orange Free State such mayhem-by-authority has been privatized, and is infamously known as the Oranjejag.)

The armed cavalry or motorized invaders, together with the dog pack, may smash through the fence of any suspect sanctuary and/or eco-tourism resort and charge around the veld looking for any caracals or jackals who might seek shelter from the extermination program, making of each little caracal kitten an Anne Frank hiding in the attic.

A better recipe for causing armed conflict between neighbors is hard to imagine. The hunters may invade without notice or permission. Any attempt to resist the invasion is unlawful; further the outraged occupier may be forced to join the hunt, as participation in it is compulsory.

When a fugitive goes to ground, the burrow is dug up and then the unfortunate fellow-occupants of the doomed burrow, whether ant-bears or bat-eared foxes or whatever, share the fugitive's fate of being torn apart by snarling dogs in a welter of blood and dust.

The hunt pays no compensation for any collateral damage and loss it causes. However, the hunters, who are paid and rewarded by the taxpayer for their grisly work, may recover all of their expenses from the aggrieved owner/occupier of the scourged land. Limitations are also placed on any criminal liability for hunt members.

In short, this is nothing more or less than a selective imposition of martial law. This monstrous legislation so far exceeds any legitimate need for livestock farmers to protect themselves from stock predation, and is so immoral and so damaging to the economic interests of the country, that one wonders how it has avoided repeal in the new South Africa. Regardless of the obvious sustained cruelty to exquisite wildlife, the misuse of public funds and harm to the employment prospects for previously disadvantaged Africans who are condemned to remain as farm slaves rather than to find emancipation through eco-tourism, are in themselves good reasons for repeal.

Who are the real problem animals anyway? Certainly not the magnificent predators whom the tourists will pay millions to see and photograph. The real problem animals are the goats and sheep who trample and devastate the veld, turning the land into desert. Besides, the livestock farmers are in retreat across the southern Kalahari. Terms of trade have moved against them, while eco-tourist resorts are sprouting and game reserves are expanding. Tswalu alone changed 26 livestock farms into one 90,000 hectare eco-tourism resort.

The land use may be changing, but not the laws. As the sun sets on apartheid and the Kalahari ranching industry, the lengthening shadows of a brutal past reach out to haunt us.

The only remedy presently available to those who provide islands of sanity in a sea of mad destruction is the Constitutional Court, and it is not a pretty equation to divide the delays and costs of a full-scale constitutional battle by the lives of three little caracal kittens. We intend to do it anyway.

[Messages on behalf of the three Kalahari caracal kittens may be sent to the Premier of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, fax 053-8332122; the Department of Environmental Affairs, fax 012-3220082, e-mail <[email protected]>; and media liaison officer <[email protected]>.]

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