A community comes together to protect our wildlife

Apr 13, 2023 | Activities

By Joan Isham

The intelligent use of fire can improve the veld condition, as well as lower the risk of devastating fires.

Fynbos plants and animals are well adapted to survive fire and in case of a controlled burn, there is also the opportunity to ‘search for and rescue’ some of the wildlife before the actual burn.

On Sunday 4 April, the Kogelberg Biosphere Rescue team, with the assistance of the Overstrand Municipality, members of the public and Betty’s Bay Volunteer Fire Fighters, did a ‘search and rescue’ of the area to remove wildlife, in preparation of Tuesday’s prescribed burn of 80 hectares of old fynbos on Blesberg.

The objective of such a sweep was to chase antelope and smaller mammals out of the area and to remove any reptiles such as snakes, tortoises and chameleons.

The communities of Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Rooi-Els rallied behind the Kogelberg Biosphere Rescue team and over 60 volunteers joined the operation. Everyone gathered at two meeting points on either end of the field for a briefing by organisers, Corlie Hugo and Michelle Watson, both from the Kogelberg Biosphere Wildlife Rescue Team.

Walking in a line through the sometime impenetrable fynbos, the volunteers and rescuers did their best to find the well-hidden critters that needed our help. The very mature fynbos made for difficult underfoot conditions, but all the volunteers made it out safely and with a wonderful camaraderie.

Our fynbos finds

The first find of the day was a tiny dwarf chameleon followed by toad, a hissing cockroach and a legless skink. The braver of the volunteers focused on the numerous spider nests that dotted the fynbos and picked up a couple of rain spiders and an Orb spider too. All were safely released into a reserve far from the reach of the fire.

On burn day itself…

 

At 7 am on the day of the burn, one last sweep of the area took place and the burn started at 11am and went off without a hitch. 

Late afternoon, as the fire was dying down, trained members of the Kogelberg Biosphere Wildlife Rescue teams arrived to begin the search for any burnt wildlife that might not have escaped in time.

The first walk along the R44 revealed a number of casualties, but not from the fire as expected, but rather from speeding cars. Dozens of chameleons, a couple of frogs, as well as a mongoose and a sunbird were impacted by the traffic as they tried to escape the flames by crossing the R44.

In the smouldering veld rescuers found the carcases of a number of snake species, including a beautiful Harlequin snake that most likely died from smoke inhalation. A few frogs, including an Arum lily toad was found alive and relocated to a suitable wetland.

 

Lessons learnt

The lessons we have learnt from this exercise are numerous and surprising, but the one that stands out the most is that a community can come together over the welfare of our wildlife and will support the efforts of the Kogelberg Biosphere Wildlife Rescue Team to try and save the lives of every little spider and bug that makes up our stunning biosphere.

A heart felt thank you to all the volunteers!

Images: Joan Isham

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