Port Elizabeth - The cutting down of a tree in which heron chicks were nesting has sparked an outcry against a property company in Jeffreys Bay.
However, although the tree is on the company's property, it denies having asked for it to be removed.
The sycamore tree was on the Property Management Group's (PMG) premises and its felling elicited strong criticism from residents of the coastal city, after hundreds of heron chicks fell from their nests, Netwerk24 reported.
"It's three days down the line and we're still rescuing chicks trapped under broken branches," said Benjamin Sithole, a spokesperson for the Humansdorp NSPCA.
He said they were called to the PMG premises by furious residents last week while the tree was being chopped down.
"When I saw how many chicks there were in the tree, and because it is the middle of the breeding season, we immediately put a stop to it."
Martie Barnard, the manager of PMG, said they had not asked for the tree to be cut down.
"Yes, the birds lead to lice in our offices about which we complained, but it's not us who wanted to get rid of the tree. I would never harm animals."
Investigation to be launched
According to Barnard, she was approached by the local environment and economic development offices for a permit to get rid of the tree because it posed a health risk.
"I didn't even know when they were planning to do so. I was just as surprised as everyone else when they pitched up."
According to Sithole, it is unclear why the permit was issued, because breeding season for herons starts in early December and the chicks would only be able to fly at the end of March.
"As soon as the chicks can fly, they leave the tree. I don't know why they couldn't have waited before cutting down the tree."
Executive Mayor Elza van Lingen said a permit to remove a protected tree or animal could only be issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
"An internal investigation will have to be done to determine who was responsible for issuing the permit," she said.
Meanwhile, around 150 rescued chicks have been taken to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) at St Francis Bay and African Dawn.
Percy Hickman, the owner of African Dawn, a bird and animal rehabilitation centre, said the chicks would have to be looked after for the next month to six weeks, after which they were expected to be strong enough to be released.