Deer killing

Toni Brockhoven, Milnerton

I am somewhat disturbed and deeply disappointed by the fact that organisations of The Cape Wildlife Forum, which includes Cape Nature, knowing of the plans, did not advise forum members of, or request input from same, regarding the impending (and now implemented?) fallow deer killing on Robben Island.

Why were the existing deer never sterilised after the last killing spree, as they are alien? They would die out naturally, alleviating any future problems.

For Ms Nzeku to state: “We treasure all of the island’s natural resources and protecting them is our greatest priority. We look forward to them thriving once more” is utterly nonsensical. They must thrive, so that in a decade we can kill them off again, with crocodile tears?

Why was this forum, and particularly animal interest groups, not asked for input, which would include sterilisation and relocation?

This can certainly be done, but it would seem that kinder, sensible options were not even considered or requested from groups which actually have the animal’s interests at heart. What on earth does the Department of Correctional Services have to do with this matter, and why were they consulted? Why is killing always the go-to solution?

What is the role of this forum, if not to identify animal-related issues, discuss them and find humane ways of dealing with, yet again, human stupidity and arrogance? I look forward to the explanations.

Bongiwe Nzeku, marketing and tourism manager at Robben Island, responds:

The informed decision to cull the fallow deer population on Robben Island followed the results of extensive research and ongoing consultation with the SPCA.

It is a decision that has been taken to ensure that the natural balance of the island’s ecosystem is once again established. The current deer population sits at numbers that are completely unsustainable, which has contributed to an undesirable state of vegetation.

Rehabilitation of the island’s vegetation is a priority as it is a vital component that influences ground breeding for indigenous seabirds, including endangered African penguins.

Robben Island Museum’s long-term objective is to rehabilitate the vegetation to a condition where it will become self-sustaining and can be maintained with minimal management inputs while still providing the necessary habitat for seabirds and other indigenous species.

It is for this reason that the cull will be conducted, followed by SPCA Wildlife specialist inspections to monitor the progress of the ecosystem restoration.

This will ensure that populations of species on the island are in a natural balance. Naturally, if animals exceed their limited habitat, they die-off from starvation and/or become vulnerable to pathogens. On evidence of the collective destruction of the vegetation, the intensive programme to control the numbers of problem animals such as feral cats, rabbits and fallow deer was initiated by Robben Island Museum in 2008.

In response to the concerns of animal activist groups, trail trapping and capturing methods were adopted. Unfortunately, the project proved to be costly, inefficient and ineffective, especially given logistical requirements on a site like Robben Island.

The relocation of exotic and invasive animals within the boundaries of South Africa is guided by the Biodiversity Act.

Notwithstanding the conservation concerns, translocation of animals from an island habitat brings with it additional trauma for the animals and such activity would be an extremely costly activity for the organisation. This money is better off allocated towards the conservation of indigenous species on the island.

Robben Island Museum and its management are committed to adopting the best possible practices for ensuring that the island is sustainable in all spheres, and are mindful of the challenges that have been associated with successfully managing all operations on the island, both in the past and the future, and strive to ensure that it is operated as effectively and sustainably as possible.

A permit to cull has been obtained from all relevant authorities. Cape Nature and Cape of Good Hope SPCA wildlife inspectors will be on the island for the duration of the project to ensure that the project is conducted humanely.