Likewise, Kleinmond residents, Gerrit and Annari Coetzee. And on this farm they have some goats; and some chickens; and some cattle… and also springbuck, kudu, eland and oryx! This gives a whole new meaning to mixed farming and some Kleinmonders are perplexed, to say the least. As far as they are concerned, wildlife belongs in the sea, not on land. What can the world be coming to when plans are afoot to introduce elephants in the Wildlife Sanctuary down the road and now there are these other animals right on the town’s doorstep – what for?
Of course, the nay-sayers do not take into account the fact that not so long ago, these very same animals’ ancestors roamed free along our coastline in abundance. In fact, up to about 15 years back, there were still a few isolated Cape eland to be found near Pringle Bay. To say that Gerrit and Annari have been harassed by some residents about their introduction of these animals is putting it mildly, so we went to find out what the fuss was about.
Sonvanger is the name of the 15 ha farm that Gerrit and Annari bought three years ago and into which they have ploughed every cent of their savings to make a dream come true. Annari says she grew up on a farm in the Northern Cape where there were wide open spaces and plenty of game, and although they have been living in Kleinmond for the past 15 years, she has longed to recreate on a small scale the environment she enjoyed as a child and to share her love of animals with children who have never before seen animals like these.
They plan to build an eco-friendly off-the-grid home for themselves on the farm, but up to now, all their money has gone into clearing alien vegetation, erecting game fencing and acquiring and feeding the animals. At one time, the site was used as a dumping site for every possible kind of rubble and junk from Kleinmond and at another time as a water melon farm. They are trying to encourage the fynbos and natural grasses to repopulate the property and were lucky enough to obtain several loads of topsoil from the Harold Porter Garden in Betty’s Bay full of fynbos seeds to get things going. In the meantime, the goats on the farm, which are not fussy about eating aliens, do so with gusto, creating pathways through the remaining myrtle and port Jackson thickets on the property.
Most of the animals have come to them as babies, which have either been abandoned by the mothers, or left behind after a game capture operation. It was up to them to bottle feed and rear them by hand, whilst still allowing them to grow up ‘wild’ (with the exception of the domestic animals, of course). Gerrit made contact with a specialised nutritionist who was responsible for formulating a balanced game food programme for Epol and the natural diet of all the animals is supplemented with this costly feed every day.
For everything they do on the farm, they need to obtain a permit, they say, and Gerrit has a file overflowing with this documentation, from, amongst others, the Overstrand Municipality, Cape Nature, the Department of Agriculture and State Veterinary Sevices. Sonvanger is categorised as a small camp game farm. Gerrit is also registered as a qualified game capture specialist and they have created a quarantine and capture boma with bare, clean soil, for animals which need to be transported from one region to another and must be declared disease-free by a vet before they can be moved. Locals would have become familiar with the two young wildebeest which were held in this camp until recently when they were moved to a larger game farm on the Garden Route.
During the process of game capture, a vet is always on hand and animals are vaccinated on a regular basis. Annari tells of how they were given two kids which had been abandoned by their mothers in mid-winter. When they arrived, they were barely alive and the vet felt there was little hope that they would survive, but with constant TLC and lots of warm bottle feeds, they both miraculously pulled through. One of them has grown into a handsome, vain young ram with impressive curling horns and a bevy of potential wives. The little female has grown into a fat, bossy nanny.
Apart from the small herd of young springbuck on the farm, including some of the rarer cream and black varieties, there is a family of shy kudu which is rarely seen from the road, two beautiful oryx (gemsbok) and recently introduced, four eland, one of them a calf. The Coetzees have been approached by the Rhino Foundation to accommodate black rhino which are also native to the area and they have a permit to do so, but they feel the property is too small to include these large animals.
It is a requirement when erecting game fencing, to allow a big enough space at ground level for small animals to move through unimpeded, so they have been thrilled to see tortoises, otters, porcupines, civet cats and honey badgers on the property. In the mountains around them, they are also aware of the presence of leopards and caracal.
Before they engage in any further developments, Gerrit has commissioned a full environmental study and although animals may come and go, he has no intention of ever keeping any which are not indigenous to the region (and definitely no lions, as has been rumoured in the town). “This is our dream place,” says Annari, “and I love to be surrounded by these beautiful creatures, but it is our private space and we have no intention of turning it into some kind of zoo. I would love children to be introduced to these animals, but that’s as far as it goes.”
Driving past the farm on a regular basis, as I do, it always lifts my spirits to see the animals peacefully grazing near the road. It is indeed a double blessing for us to have both marine and land-based wildlife on our doorsteps.