Several incidents of unleashed dogs terrorising antelope in Fernkloof Nature Reserve have recently been reported. “One terrified grysbok was flushed out of hiding and seen frantically dashing through Voëlklip streets,” says Anina Lee of Whale Coast Conservation. “Tortoises and other small animals are also seen as prey by dogs.”

The majority of nature reserves in South Africa do not allow domestic animals into the reserves. There are good reasons for this.

Nature reserves are havens created to support, protect and conserve the flora and fauna in these wilderness areas. A balance must be found between allowing access to enjoy nature reserves whilst continuing to protect them.

“Dog walking is one issue where this balance is difficult,” says Anina. “The fact is that dogs in reserves can cause a significant amount of damage, mostly unnoticed by visitors. International research has shown that dogs in natural areas, on or off a lead, result in displacement of many species of wildlife, particularly birds. Not only does this negatively affect the biodiversity of the area, but in turn impacts on ecotourism, including bird watching, which is an increasingly popular pastime throughout the world. Dogs by their very nature are hunters, whilst birds and small animals, by their nature, are prey.”

In Hermanus, dogs on leads are allowed on the Cliff Path (part of Fernkloof since 2000) and on certain routes in the Fernkloof mountains. This is a big concession in a nature reserve – not a right.

“We urge all dog owners to respect this concession, to keep dogs on leads and pick up after them. The truth is that dog poo is not harmless to the environment. It may introduce pathogens or simply too many nutrients for the fynbos. Furthermore, many dogs are routinely treated with systemic insecticides such as Bravecto, which is excreted unchanged and could kill any insects in the area, especially dung beetles,” says Anina.

“Please respect the privilege of walking your best friend in a world-famous nature reserve.”

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