Ashburton’s zebra battle

2017-04-24 14:37
Left: Members of the Ashburton conservancy gathered at the gates to the Ashburton training centre where they protested against the capture and relocation of a group of zebras from the local conservancy. Right: Some of the zebras in a game capture vehicle.

Left: Members of the Ashburton conservancy gathered at the gates to the Ashburton training centre where they protested against the capture and relocation of a group of zebras from the local conservancy. Right: Some of the zebras in a game capture vehicle. (Supplied)

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Outraged members of the Mpushini/Ashburton Conservancy confronted a game capture team sent to dart and relocate 20 zebras from the area at the weekend.

The decision to relocate the zebras was allegedly taken without consulting conservancy members by Gold Circle, owners of the Ashburton racehorse training centre, which said it has experienced “problems” with zebras that roam freely throughout the conservancy which surrounds their property.

Conservancy members, some of whom posted angry messages on a community WhatsApp group in response to the activities of the game capture unit assisted by helicopter, engaged in an “all-day battle” with the unit and management of Gold Circle and the training centre on Saturday.

They appealed to the community to voice their disapproval by protesting and stopping the capture.

At one point they blocked the road to stop the zebras being herded through the gates to the awaiting capture team.

The upshot of negotiations was that an agreement was reached whereby nine captured zebra stallions were taken away. These were among a total of 17 captured during the operation.

The remaining “family group” of eight was set free, said the chairperson of the Ashburton Conservancy, Keith Brown.

Brown told The Witness 18 property owners are in an official “partnership” with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to run the area as a conservancy where wild animals roam freely. “It is a unique area,” he said.

Brown said the animals sometimes venture onto the training centre property, which is not a member of the conservancy. However, prior to this they have worked well together to try to resolve problems.

There were reports that the zebras wandered onto the training centre and caused damage to the track, he said.

He was also aware of a report in Weekend Witness about a trainer who was chased by zebras while walking her dogs there.

Brown said he pays regular visits to the training centre, but had not seen any zebras come onto the property or cause damage during his visits. He said assurances were given by the management that nothing would be done regarding the zebras without consultation.

Then to their astonishment on Friday night at about 11 pm a resident reported seeing “big game capture trucks” being driven along a dirt road on the conservancy and followed the vehicles to the training centre.

When community members went there on Saturday morning they discovered a helicopter being prepared to assist with the game capture of zebras in the area. They were told that the training centre had a permit to catch and relocate 20 zebras.

This infuriated community members who were not consulted and felt that the management and even Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife had “gone behind their backs”.

Brown said the battle continued throughout the day, but 17 zebras were captured nonetheless. The chopper thereafter allegedly began “flying around” in search of more zebras to get the full quota of 20.

Brown said removing 20 zebras is no solution as others will replace them. A plan of action such as proper fencing is the only long-term solution, he said.

He added the conservancy was also looking at possible fund raising to get money for fencing.

Brown said no census was taken to determine how many zebras there are and the impact of their removal before Saturday’s action.

Ashburton training centre manager Tony Rivalland said Gold Circle had adhered to the law and obtained a permit from EKZNW allowing them to capture and relocate zebras they found on their property.

He said the zebras pose a number of risks to the horses that train at the centre.

“The zebras just run onto the track while the horses are training. This is very dangerous for the horses and trainers,” he said.

He added that the zebras also cause a lot of damage to training facilities which are expensive to maintain, and they are also hosts to African horse diseases that can affect horses if they are exposed to the zebras.

He said the decision to relocate the zebras was not linked in any way to the incident where the woman walking her dogs was chased.

A local landowner in Ashburton who did not want to be named, said he saw a helicopter herding zebras from his property towards the training centre where they could be captured on Saturday. “The helicopter pilot was in violation of the permit which only allowed them to capture the zebras that were on the training centre property,” he said.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said on Sunday he was unable to comment on the matter as he did not have access to information and permit records because it was a Sunday.

Read more on:    ezemvelo kzn wildlife  |  pietermaritzburg

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