Helping people understand the environment

2008-09-04 00:00

Sindi Mkhize, a Pietermaritzburg nyanga (traditional healer) who was arrested and charged in April 2006 for being in possession of lion skin, leopard skin, a monitor lizard and for stealing and killing a tortoise from the Lion Park, spoke at a workshop on “The impact of tradition and the modern age on the environment” at the Hluhluwe Game Reserve yesterday.

Mkhize was sentenced to 105 hours of community service and a year-long prison sentence that was suspended after she completed her community service — cutting down alien trees in 10 different nature reserves.

Trees like Eucalyptus, which is very water-dependent and not indigenous, need to be cut down as they are part of the reason there is a water shortage for other indigenous plants.

The two-day conference commenced with the signing of a KZN Wildlife Crime Working Group Mandate between the SA Police Services, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the National Prosecuting Authority.

The environment, including wildlife and endangered flora, are under attack, and alien plants are not the only danger to these resources — humans are major players also. People make a living out of selling endangered plants and animals, and though this would not be a problem if done in moderation, their need for money outweighs their conscience to protect the land and its resources.

About three weeks ago, Carte Blanche aired a documentary that showed poachers killing wild animals owned by game farmers and selling their meat for next to nothing. A wildebeest, for example, could cost a farmer about R84 000, but poachers sell the meat at rural markets for between R200 and R1 500.

One man admitted to buying the meat because it is “cheap and palatable”.

A poacher said he finds the name “poacher” derogatory and since he came from a line of “traditional hunters”, would like to be called a “traditional hunter”.

He does not believe he is committing any offence, as he says the land the farmers own belongs to him because he was born there — and therefore will continue to hunt there.

Chairman of the KZN Wildlife Crime Working group, Rod Potter, said they are well aware that natural resources serve valuable purposes, and that it is not the intention of the organisation to prevent people from making a living out of these resources.

“In theory, we can’t do that because everybody is entitled to make a living. But everything should be done in moderation. Collecting bark from a tree that will get sold to traditional healers for medicinal purposes, for example, can still be done if it is done properly and in moderation.

Collecting 30 bags of bark from the same tree will kill the tree — it takes at least 20 years to grow a new one, but removing only a little bark at a time, will preserve the tree so that more bark can be extracted from it at a later stage,” he said.

Similarly, the organisation is optimistic that land claim disputes between farmers and poachers can be resolved. They will be speaking at the conference today on strategies to educate communities about nature conservation, community development and land dispute resolution.

Mkhize, after serving her community service, agreed after being approached by the organisation to share her story at future workshops. “I have learnt a lot about different trees from the time that I spent doing my community service and would like to help educate more people about protecting endangered species,” she said.

“When I was charged, I did not know that I was doing anything wrong. I did not have any problem with the law at the time, even now that I understand more, I think that the law is good, I had a problem with the government for not making more people aware of the harm that they are doing to their environment,” she added.

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