Eight raptors stolen from midlands sanctuary

2011-09-29 00:00

EIGHT rehabilitated birds of prey have been stolen from a wildlife sanctuary near the Umgeni Valley, and there are fears that they may have been killed for muthi.

Pam Stuckenberg of Tshwala Benyoni sanctuary said they realised yesterday morning the birds, some of which had been in her care for 11 years, were gone.

The aviary had been cut open.

A distressed Stuckenberg said she suspected the birds were taken to Shiyabazali, an informal settlement near Howick, as she found feathers in the vicinity of the nearby pipeline.

Stuckenberg said the birds were “all accidents I gave a home to”.

She had tended the birds back to health, but they were not able to be released back into the wild.

She said one jackal buzzard, four steppe buzzards and three yellow-billed kites had gone.

The birds, which she allowed to interact with schoolchildren, were used for educational purposes.

Ben Hoffman of the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary has removed Stuckenberg’s other raptors for safekeeping for fear the thieves could strike again.

Hoffman said the birds stolen from Stuckenberg were all specially protected birds of prey.

“Pam has been doing this for over 20 years and has done incredible work.”

Hoffman said he has had two attempted break-ins at his centre too.

“There is a market for birds as there is a market for rhinos.”

He said birds are sometimes stolen to order if a sangoma wants an owl or vulture or hawk.

Police spokesperson Captain Lolly Moodley said a case of housebreaking and theft has been opened and that police are investigating.

He said it cannot be confirmed that the birds were stolen for muthi purposes.

Steve McKean, resource use ecologist at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said conservation authorities are “very worried” about the extensive use of vultures in traditional medicine.

He said it is uncommon for people to go to such lengths to steal birds, and he believes the theft is more than likely linked to traditional medicine.

He warned that birds chosen for muthi purposes are usually killed with the highly toxic agricultural poison Temic.

“If you ingest or smoke body parts of birds killed like this it is a serious health risk.”

stephs@witness.co.za

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