What’s wrong with caring for wildlife?

2010-09-23 00:00

AS readers of New Scientist will be aware, the ethics of conservation are under the spotlight, notably the inhumane way in which conservationists tend to treat sentient beings purportedly for the maintenance of the environment or the good of endangered species.

With reference to the recent confiscation of monkeys from Johan Olivier and the subsequent euthanasing of two of them, could a conservationist from ­Ezem­­­velo­ KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) please explain what is wrong with a compassionate individual caring for an injured animal or animals when the creatures in his or her care are obviously healthy, mentally and physically? Exactly who are the experts who recommended that the monkeys be euthanased and what are their credentials?

Caring for any primate is a monumental commitment and one that I would never undertake. I admire anyone who can do it well and then undertake the continuous care of non-releasable individuals. I entered the rehabilitation world with a distinct antipathy for vervet monkeys, on the understanding that I would never have to look after them. Life doesn’t work that way and I had to care for some. Baboons too. I gained considerable respect and appreciation for them as a consequence, and quickly passed them on to competent carers. People having contact with Olivier’s monkeys are most likely to have been similarly favourably affected.

When people have come to me in the past asking to have a wild creature as a pet, I have always recommended that they go to the pet shop or the SPCA to collect something to cuddle.

Rehabilited animals need minimal contact with humans to be candidates for a successful life in the wild, but there are people out there who have the ability and commitment to give non-releasable wild creatures a satisfactory life, and their families and friends gain in understanding and compassion. Coming in contact with wild creatures, they will experience another life, just as I did, and will be more concerned with conservation — a ripple effect.

My son found a toppie orphaned in a storm when he was five years old. Together we raised it and thereafter he could never join in bird shooting which was so popular with small boys at the time. The son of a friend, very gung ho with an airgun, told me that after his sister had got him to help her look after an orphaned bird, he could no longer shoot anything he had cared for. Both of us were illegally caring for wildlife, and in both cases conservation was the winner. This is educating the youth.

I was brought up with the perception that vultures were vile, smelly, dirty, despicable scavengers. It took very little time with Bruce Fordyce, a Cape Vulture, (with one wing dislocated, he covered a great distance on his own two feet in very little time) to prove how very wrong this public perception is. I have cared for a variety of species of wildlife, each of which has added value and understanding to my life, and to the lives of my family and friends who have helped me.

EKZNW is determined to put a stop to the spread of this knowledge. Why? In all honesty we are doing EKZNW’s work for it, caring for wildlife when necessary and educating the public at the same time. What harm have we done? Why not help members of the public do a good job caring for wildlife? We have to buy permits to do the work and submit our homes to scrutiny by staff members who often have had no guidelines and no rehabilitation experience. We pay for the upkeep of these animals and we aren’t paid a salary.

Meanwhile, poaching is rife in Ashburton, which EKZNW is incapable of putting a stop to. A bushbuck was poached on my property recently.

Packs of dogs and poachers roam the Umgeni Valley at will. Muti plants have been taken out of this valley and not a snake lily survives. No one goes after the muti merchants in the Warwick Triangle. In the middle of one of the driest, hottest spring seasons on record, both WESSA and Hilton College have burnt a large part of their grasslands. Why? Because that is what they do for conservation. Who believes this conflagration will prevent climate and ecological change? It will reduce biodiversity.

I think conservationists have lost the plot somewhere. Frequent front-page pictures of dignitaries bedecked in the sartorial elegance of wildlife, much of it endangered, prompts no comment. That is culture. Well, my culture is caring for wildlife, any of it, endangered or not. Strength to all those who care for and conserve our wild creatures and help others appreciate them.

• Pam Stuckenberg works for Midlands Wildcare.

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