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Rob Fryer, general manager of Whale Coast Conservation (WCC), a practising consultant, has not used the opportunity of engaging with me as owner of Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) on the details of the initiative – or the management of game – that he has chosen to comment on, in his opinion piece published in The Village NEWS on 10 April 2019.
Nor has Fryer applied himself to sound research to engage in dialogue that requires far more than reading the press. It may have assisted his credibility if facts relating to the project had been obtained. It seems to have been convenient to continue to deceive the public, like many of the so-called ‘concerned parties’ before him.
Instead, it seems that Fryer has, like many other detractors, gleaned emotional propaganda from activist, sensationalist blogs and websites that are riddled with hearsay and emotive rumour. He has followed an uninformed populist view.
Fryer’s background in conservation seems deeply lacking in wildlife matters and issues that fall far outside of his expertise in conservation. It will be enlightening to learn of his wildlife management experience, which seems to challenge the leaders in this field. The researchers and experts utilised by KWS include research and submissions by Ken Coetzee, an acknowledged leading authority on wildlife management in South Africa.
The statement that the animals have been acquired through “commercial transactions” is naive. Where else do the animals come from? KWS would gladly receive wild animals free of charge. Fryer should perhaps enquire how many of our national parks raise funds through wildlife sales. These parks include most of our esteemed game reserves such as Umfolozi, managed by KZN Parks Board and Kruger National Park, which is managed by South African National Parks.
Categorisation of any non-domesticated animal species is referred to as “a wild animal”, full stop. At KWS wild animals will forage; they will not be enclosed in camps. Fryer’s understanding of animal habituation is flawed. He states, “… habituated to a point that they are incapable of being returned to the wild”. Some birds and mammal species can be imprinted on and find it difficult to be reintroduced to the wild, but elephants are highly adaptable to changing environments.
The statement “… animals that are not endemic to the Overstrand …” is ludicrous. Endemism relates to species only found in a limited area. African elephants are endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa. To partially demonstrate their adaptability, compare the vastly differing habitats of the Damaraland Desert in Namibia, Addo Park near Port Elizabeth, Kruger National Park and the elephants in the Abedare Forest in Kenya. If what Fryer meant was “indigenous”, elephants were observed in the area and specifically noted in Jan Van Riebeeck’s Journal in 1658. KWS habitat is perfectly suited to elephants.
Fryer chose to negate the botanical and wildlife studies done on Lamloch by the experts, whose names are found on the supporting documents and were available to the public for some weeks before 10 April. Instead, he seems to follow the uninformed, distorted narrative of some ignorant, but possibly well-meaning, social media groups that have, instead, distributed a destructive narrative with their emotional lack of knowledge.
Environmental Law relating to fencing and securing ”coastal public property” would surely also include everyone who has a seafront house or property in the Hermanus suburbs of Eastcliff or Voëlklip? Are their properties also public domain which may not be fenced? These areas are components of Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Fryer’s presumption that I have not done due diligence and fenced the private property, is wrong. If he had made the responsible effort to enquire, he would have discovered that the application for fencing was lodged with the Department of Environmental Affairs over three years ago, and it was approved.
The development of a tented camp built in a sensitive environment has been thoroughly considered. Research, planning and expertise have been employed so that it will be done in a responsible manner so as not to affect the watercourse. Apart from a conservation rationale, it makes no sense to build in a watercourse for many reasons – such as the danger of debris build-up during flooding and subsidence of the lodges, as light as they are, to name an obvious couple.
The assumption that elephants trample is also incorrect. Horses trample; elephants walk selected paths year after year with soft and rounded soles. Towards the end of 2018 the Rooisand Horse Watch Group requested that we escort all the wild horses off Lamloch. These 22 horses, with their hard and sharp-edged hoofs and high activity levels, have had very little impact on the sensitive environment over the last 50 years. In my 20 years of experience with elephants and wildlife, elephants will have less impact than horses on the area.
Fryer states that a suitably-qualified botanist/ecologist should carry out an assessment every two years. Our plan is that it will be done annually. Fryer’s insight into how to manage “the impact” is outrageous. Of course, our team has thought about reducing elephant numbers if the effect is detrimental to the environment. Having invested a total of R5 million of capital so far in the war against aliens alone over the past four years, and Working for Water having invested another R3 million, which is quite apart from the expenditure for fences – and more to come for the tented camp etc, it is common sense that we are keen to protect our conservation investment in full.
Another confrontational claim is Fryer’s attack on CapeNature, which he accuses of “arrogance of the highest order”. CapeNature is the legislated authority to deal with all environmental matters and employs experts in their respective fields to perform their mandated duties. I shall gladly share relevant information with legitimate and neutral parties or organisations.