PMB no City of Choice for wildlife

2009-12-18 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG prides itself on its beautiful setting, its lush gardens and parks and areas rich in indigenous wildlife. It is also, however, a city that has seen rapid expansion and development, and this has had a negative impact on the bird and animal species, which are remarkable for their uniqueness and diversity. It has lost whole colonies of nesting egrets and herons, and, with further developments planned for the N3 corridor through Ashburton, the impact on wildlife is going to become more severe.

Despite this, the city council has made absolutely no provision to address the needs of the wildlife that is already being affected by fences, dogs, motor vehicles, hunting, poaching and all the other problems which accompany rapid urbanisation in a previously rural area.

FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation KZN is a centre which was set up for the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured or orphaned wildlife, and is situated outside Howick. Its primary concern is to assist the animals from the midlands when they are affected by human interaction and ensure that they are cared for by professional, trained staff before being reintroduced into areas where they will be more protected from the effects of human encroachment.

Thanks to donations and assistance from businesses and individuals in Howick and along the Midlands Meander, a state-of-the- art clinic was built and opened in February 2007, and a 24/7 emergency hotline ensures that animals are rescued and given the best possible care as quickly as possible. The centre has two full-time employees and a number of volunteers who assist with feeding and cleaning of cages. The residents and small businesses in Howick have rallied around and supported FreeMe to allow it to develop into the entity it is today. Schools such as Michaelhouse, Clifton, Cowan House and Epworth run continuous fund- raising events and also bring pupils through on a volunteer basis to prepare feed and clean cages.

FreeMe has developed very good relationships with the SPCAs in the area, including Howick, Mooi River and Pietermaritzburg, and now handles all wildlife collected by them. The public is advised to contact the centre directly to handle emergencies and it is here that a problem has arisen. FreeMe is a Section 21 company with nonprofit organisation status and all fund raising is done by the organisation. It is a relatively new charity and started its activities at the beginning of the recession.

Howick has no large corporates and the small businesses have been feeling the pinch, but still manage to assist. Residents from Howick have really rallied round and give generously of time, money and items such as long-life milk and bird food. Although FreeMe has been donated the clinic and pays no rent, it still has to cover salaries, transport and vet costs, food bills, telephone and cellphone accounts and build new enclosures for the patients.

However, more and more residents from Pietermaritzburg are using the services of FreeMe which is placing huge financial stress on the organisation. Currently, about 50% of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation cases carried out by FreeMe come from Pietermaritzburg.

A collection from Howick and surrounds takes on average 20 minutes and costs in the region of about R20. A call out to Pietermaritzburg takes a minimum of an hour, usually longer, as the FreeMe Staff are not always familiar with the area, and the cost is never less than R60. This year, FreeMe has had the use of a sponsored vehicle and petrol, but that comes to an end at the end of this month and it will not be possible for FreeMe to pay its own costs to Pietermaritzburg, especially as the centre sometimes gets up to three calls a day from various suburbs. The residents of Howick and surrounds understand the problem and will often drop the patient at the clinic or arrange to meet at a convenient location. Pietermaritzburg residents seem to expect FreeMe to collect animals from their houses.

It is neither fair nor sustainable for FreeMe and its sponsors in Howick to handle the influx of injured, sick or orphaned wildlife from the entire Pietermaritzburg area. Areas such as Greytown and Underberg/Winterton assist FreeMe and have ongoing fund-raising events for their operations. Other than a much-appreciated golf day held by Varsity College which raised R10 000 and the ongoing donations raised by Epworth, no contributions are received from Pietermaritzburg. It is not feasible or sustainable that Pietermaritzburg, which has a far larger, wealthier population and which has numerous big corporates, should piggyback on the fact that the people of the midlands had the foresight to identify the problems that would arise with the region’s wildlife due to rapid development, and took steps to handle the situation. So while FreeMe will do everything in its power to help the animals affected, until such time as the Pietermaritzburg local government, its corporates and residents accept responsibility and commit to helping finance the solution to a very large problem, either by establishing a satellite FreeMe or by funding the existing Howick operation, please realise that any help offered by FreeMe to the residents of Pietermaritzburg is to be regarded as a privilege and not a right.



• Rosalind Marais is the Centre Manager at FreeMe KZN Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

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