Leave it to the experts

2008-07-03 00:00

IT was 10 years ago that Theo and Margie Cavé found an injured baby reedbuck. On the advice of the SPCA, Theo took it to Pam Stuckenberg at Midlands Wildcare in Howick — and a new chapter in the Cavés’ lives opened.

“That one didn’t survive, but I was fascinated by what Pam was doing. I would have loved to make a big donation, but I couldn’t afford it. So I said: “ ‘I’m yours for two weeks’. I enjoyed myself immensely working with her.” The two weeks over, the Cavés began to take in and rehabilitate wildlife on their Egqumeni property near Cramond.

“The first rule is: don’t think with your heart, think with your head,” says Theo. He regularly gets calls from people who have found a baby buck. The Cavés tell them to take it in, but the appeal of a cute little Bambi is so strong that people want to raise it themselves.

“You can’t make a pet of a buck. It will break your heart at some stage,” insists Theo. Buck eat domestic gardens — ornamental plants are history once a hungry buck gets going. And when they reach their first mating season, their natural instincts kick in. “If they have been with us, they decide there’s something better than Theo and Margie,” he says. And they can become dangerous. The Cavés always put pieces of hose pipe over horns, but hooves, even if small, are as sharp as razors. People who have tried to make pets of buck have been seriously gored — Bambi can be lethal.

But the real problem is not what animals do to people — it is what people, with the best intentions, do to animals. “For a start, cow’s milk is a no-no for buck,” says Theo. People will go against his advice and keep the animals, only to phone three weeks later to say the buck is sick. And it is often too late.

Karen Trendler of Wildcare Africa recommends a mixture for feeding baby buck — a litre of full cream, long-life milk, an egg yolk, a tablespoon of live yogurt and a teaspoon of Protexin powder from the vet. But even so, caring for an animal and then being able to release it around six months later is a complicated, 24-hour-a-day job. “If a married couple take it on, you both have to be involved, do it together,” says Margie. “It takes all our time, day and night. Last year, after the fires, we had 12 animals here at the same time.” And caring for animals doesn’t come cheap either.

The Cavés work mostly with buck — bushbuck, reedbuck, impala, Oribi and steenbok have all been successfully raised and released by them, as well as scrub hares. They, like all the members of Midlands Wildcare, have a permit from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and if red data-book species, such as endangered Oribi, come in, they work together to decide on a release location. They are also in a perfect situation to release rehabilitated water birds or otters, as they overlook the Albert Falls Dam. Friendly and inquisitive, the otters they have raised will still come and greet Theo if he is down at the dam fishing.

Some years ago, the Cavés cared for an Egyptian Goose with a broken leg — Hoppy. A little later, another one came in from Hilton College — called Hilton. Now Hilton and Hoppy come back every year to nest on top of the aviary where they were put while Hoppy’s leg healed and raise their goslings — always eight, says Theo.

Vet Oliver Tatham, who has worked with Midlands Wildcare for many years, agrees that it is in the best interest of the animals to hand them over to the experts. “People pick up an animal or bird, and will say how tame it is. It’s usually because it is so stressed it can’t think what else to do — or it is so sick,” he says. And while he doesn’t want to be alarmist, he does feel people should be reminded to be careful of animals and birds as they can transmit various diseases to humans, including rabies or psittacosis.

Injured animals may have been hit by cars, caught by dogs or snared. Tatham says that, more often than he likes, he has to treat gunshot wounds. Sometimes baby buck are being sold on the side of the road and concerned members of the public stop and buy them to save them. “It’s a vicious circle,” says Theo. “When the seller realises the monetary value, they will try to get more.”

One of the saddest kinds of “rescue” is when people walking in the veld come across a baby buck lying in the grass and assume it has been abandoned. But in some species of browsers, like duiker and bushbuck, the mother feeds the baby in the morning and then goes off to feed herself for the day. The baby is programmed to stay, even in a fire. For the first few days of its life, it will not even give off a scent. “People come along, find what they think is a little lost buck — and then you have a traumatised baby, a traumatised mother, a traumatised walker and a lot of work for Margie and myself,” says Theo.

“If you see a baby duiker in the grass, stay and watch or go back the next day.”

Theo has a list of do’s and don’ts. Up at the top is what to do if you see a snare. “Do not remove it,” he says. “Just cut the loop. If you remove it, it will be replaced tomorrow. If you cut it so that it stays in place, the poacher will check from a distance so as not to leave his scent, and it if looks okay, it could stay for months and will slip off any animal.

“And if you find a baby antelope, scrub hare or bird, let the authorities — the SPCA or the rehabilitators — have it. It will have a better chance. And never, never, feed it cow’s milk.”

His final advice is the same as his opening: “Don’t think with your heart, think with your head.”

What is Midlands Wildcare?

Midlands Wildcare is a loose affiliation of like-minded individuals concerned with the rehabilitation of wildlife. It was started by Pam Stuckenberg in Howick and the members work closely with local vets, who will treat an animal and then pass it on to members of Midlands Wildcare to care for it until it can be released.

The SPCA or vets are often the first people contacted and they are able to assess and treat an animal before it is passed on to rehabilitators.

While any of the members will help with any animal or bird, they all have their specialities:

• Pam Stuckenberg: everything, but particularly birds — 033 330 2681.

• Theo and Margie Cavé: buck, scrub hares, otters and water birds — 033 569 1046 or 083 959 5486.

• Ben Hoffman: all raptors — 082 359 0900.

• Free Me: all animals and birds — 033 330 3036.

• Steve Smit: monkeys — 082 659 4711.

• Garth Carpenter: reptiles — 033 396 3634.

• SPCA Pietermaritzburg: Daniel Stewart is the wildlife expert — 033 386 9267.

• SPCA Howick — 033 330 4557.

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