MPUMALANGA MEC APPROVES THE DECLARATION OF THE GREATER LAKENVLEI PROTECTED ENVIRONMENT

logo lakenvlei

13 April 2017

A major milestone for the conservation of South Africa’s water resources and threatened Highveld grass- and wetlands was reached on 7 April 2017, when the MEC for Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA), Vusi Shongwe, declared the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment near Dullstroom. South Africa’s grasslands and wetlands are poorly represented in formal protected areas and this declaration will now add 14,305 hectares of important grassland and wetland habitat to the network of protected areas within the province. This momentous achievement was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and their NGO partners, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa.

These organisations have a long history of working together in the area, dating back to 1994, and began the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, which aims to secure privately owned land within formal protected areas, in 2010. Biodiversity Stewardship has been a critical factor in enabling cost effective protected area expansion. It ensures that land stays available for agricultural production while offering landowners a way to contribute to national biodiversity conservation targets in a sustainable way. MTPA Head of Protected Areas Expansion, Brian Morris, commented that the future of biodiversity conservation is in the hands of private, communal and corporate landowners and the MTPA has walked a long road with the landowners of the Greater Lakenvlei area to secure the site under formal legal protection. He is very hopeful that, in the future, the leadership in the provincial conservation agency and the Provincial Government will continue to support the declaration of more land for conservation.

The Greater Lakenvlei area is critical to biodiversity as it harbours all three of South Africa’s crane species—including South Africa’s National Bird, the Blue Crane, and the Critically Endangered Wattled Crane—as well as other threatened species such as White-winged Flufftail. Lakenvlei is also a peatland, which is a wetland with a particularly high organic matter content that is good at storing and purifying water, as well as sequestering and storing carbon in a pristine state, critical to preventing additional impacts on climate change. Furthermore, the Lakenvlei wetlands provide crucial ecosystem services, including the ability to trap nitrates, regulate stream flow, maintain biodiversity, flood attenuation, and to prevent erosion due to good vegetation cover.

The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment falls within the well-known Dullstroom tourism hub that provides a large number of local tourism-related jobs connected to the scenic beauty and outdoor activities in the area. This declaration will enable the continued development of sustainable tourism opportunities within the area.

“We are excited about this conservation milestone, especially in the light of the development pressures this area faces. The EWT would like to extend its appreciation to our partners and to the MEC for his visionary commitment to biodiversity conservation and securing sustainable tourism areas in Mpumalanga,” says Ursula Franke, Senior Field Officer for the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme. “The objectives of the GLPE are to demonstrate the mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation into the agriculture and tourism sector by securing the conservation of the area and by promoting agricultural and other land use practices that are compatible with biodiversity conservation. The ultimate objective is to ensure ongoing grassland conservation whilst livelihoods from livestock farming and tourism are maintained.”

CEO of BirdLife South Africa, Mark Anderson, says: “This declaration is a vital achievement in protecting this important grassland area which hosts many threatened bird species, and is also important for water management, tourism and agriculture.” Daniel Marnewick, the manager of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme (IBA) at BirdLife South Africa adds that “this declaration will protect the Steenkampsberg IBA through improved management and by minimising threats to this sensitive grassland and vlei habitat, such as from mining which could negatively impact on the water, natural habitats and thereby the bird species found in this system.” Marnewick further indicates that this declaration is another victory for biodiversity stewardship in the country, which empowers local landowners to become stewards of the natural diversity found on their land.

The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment is an area of immense beauty and home to a wide variety of special plants and animals. The protection of the area also secures and enhances water and food production—our country’s lifeblood. The landowners’ commitment to Biodiversity Stewardship is especially praiseworthy. With assistance from MTPA and partners, the sustainable management of this special area will largely be in their hands.

Contacts
Brian Morris
MTPA
Tel: 084 579 7979
brian.morris@mtpa.co.za

Ernst Retief
BirdLife South Africa
Tel: 082 325 66080
ernst.retief@birdife.org.za

Ursula Franke
African Crane Conservation Programme Field Officer
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
ursulaf@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398 ext 110
belindag@ewt.org.za

Notes to Editors:
• The Grassland Biome has high avifaunal significance, because it supports about 350 of the 846 bird species, 29 of the 125 Red Data bird species (Barnes 2000) and 53% of endemic bird species (Clancey 1986) occurring in South Africa. Consequently, 50 of South Africa’s 122 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are in grasslands (Barnes 1998).
• The national Biodiversity Stewardship Programme aims to sign private and communally-owned land into voluntary contractual agreements that afford legal Protected Area status to sites of critical biodiversity importance outside of State-owned nature reserves and national parks.
• For information on the EWT visit http://www.ewt.org.za
• For information on BirdLife South Africa visit http://www.birdlife.org.za and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), visit http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Karoo enters an uncertain future as government approves prospecting for hydraulic fracturing

Karoo

6 April 2017
Start

Minister of Minerals and Energy, Mosebenzi Zwane, announced on 30 March 2017 that government policy would make provision for energy companies to start prospecting for shale gas in the Karoo. This decision follows the release of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Shale Gas in 2016, which aimed to provide a more holistic assessment of the impact of shale gas extraction on the economy, environment and people. Among the findings of the SEA report was that job opportunities within the shale gas sector would be less than what was widely proclaimed and that the availability of water would be a restricting factor for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Karoo.

In August 2016, after carefully considering the available evidence, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) adopted the position that impacts from fracking are poorly understood and that the current regulatory framework is insufficiently equipped to properly regulate the activity. The combined effect would be an unquantified risk that could not be adequately mitigated and which would present a significant risk to people’s health, landscapes and biodiversity. This is still our position and, as such, we are deeply concerned about the ramifications of this announcement. While some people may argue that prospecting is not exploration we foresee the issues above manifesting in the prospecting phase and that the latter will inevitably pave the way for exploration.

It is also possible that factors such as the economic viability (extraction and transportation costs) and lack of water in the Karoo required for fracking will limit the scale of shale gas extraction. However, this simply makes the fact that companies want to continue with exploration so much more risky and uncertain and, as such, we do not consider these factors as sufficient reason to dismiss the threat of fracking.

In his statement, the Minister alluded to steps that will be taken to ensure the protection of water resources, agricultural resources and the environment. His statement was, however, not specific about what such steps will entail and does nothing to dispel current observations of poor compliance experienced in the mining sector in South Africa leading to ongoing environmental damage. As such, we are deeply concerned about the ability of government to manage and mitigate the risks of fracking.

South Africa’s leading science advisory body, the Council for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) has urged the government to give serious thought to the potentially “devastating effects” on scarce water supplies before authorising widespread shale gas fracking. The Academy of Science of South Africa also cautioned that promises of quick economic riches seemed far from conclusive and that fracking could in fact lead to widespread job losses in rural areas such as the Karoo, along with polluted water, polluted air and “significant” earthquakes. The EWT is of the opinion that fracking will not result in broad based economic beneficiation and will devalue other sustainable economic activities in the Karoo such as tourism and agriculture.

Fracking is technically complicated, will require novel regulations, and trained officials to monitor and enforce compliance. Impacts will be irreparable and costly to rehabilitate to even a functional state. Currently our government departments are not equipped to deal with this.

The Karoo contains fragile ecosystems and the possible impact of fracking on water resources remains a great concern. Experiences in the Xolobeni mining dilemma on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast demonstrate that a contentious development such as fracking can result in social “fracturing” and increased polarisation between different sectors of society.

The EWT will continue to monitor these developments and actively engage government and stakeholders where habitats and biodiversity are threatened. In particular, the EWT intends to, among other actions, develop a comprehensive response to the decision to allow prospecting for shale gas and to communicate this to government. We will also meet with partner organisations to develop a targeted grassroots action plan to address fracking in the Karoo and the rest of the country. We will also investigate and interrogate the validity of prospecting permits that have already been issued or that are in the process of being issued.

Globally, South Africa has developed one of the most successful government-private sector business models in terms of the renewable energy sector. Given the close ties between energy, water and food security – and the urgent requirement to protect the resilience of our natural capital under future uncertain climate scenarios – we argue that the country can, and should, develop an alternative energy vision that excludes the use of shale gas. While wind and solar energy development still have environmental and social impacts, these impacts can largely be mitigated and compliance can be governed and enforced.

The Karoo, and South Africa in general, is facing a renewed onslaught of mining applications. Worryingly, recent applications have also been made for mining within protected environments. This new trend seems to indicate that environmental protection has taken second place in government policy and potentially signifies the erosion of section 24 of the Constitution, which states that every person “has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing and to have the environment protected through reasonable legislative measures”. This is a significant concern, and environmental and social role-players will have to rise to this challenge to ensure the protection of our natural heritage and livelihoods.

For more information, please refer to the EWT’s position statement on Hydraulic fracturing

End

Contacts
Cobus Theron
Drylands Conservation Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
cobust@ewt.org.za

Lourens Leeuwner
Renewable Energy Project Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 21 788 5661
lourensl@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398 ext 110
belindag@ewt.org.za

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Response to the Constitutional Court Decision Regarding the Rhino Horn Moratorium

rhino

6 April 2017
Start

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is one of the largest and most established conservation NGOs in southern Africa. With a long track record and interest in successful rhino conservation, the EWT has a passionate interest in all rhino conservation issues and therefore has a significant interest in the decision taken by the Constitutional Court on 30 March 2017 between the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and private rhino owners, Messrs. J Kruger and J Hume, two trade bodies, Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) and the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA).

On 5 April 2017, the Constitutional Court handed down an order dismissing the DEA’s leave for appeal. The DEA was appealing the 2015 order of the High Court, which set aside the national moratorium on the domestic trade in individual rhino horns or any derivative or product thereof. The national moratorium on the domestic trade of rhino horn, derivative or product, was put in place on 13 February 2009 by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in terms of section 57(2) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 10 of 2004 (NEMBA) (the moratorium).

The validity of the moratorium was contested in the North Gauteng High Court in 2012, by two private rhino owners, Messrs. J Kruger and J Hume, and two bodies, Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) and the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA). The rhino owners argued that the 2009 moratorium was not published by the Minister in a national newspaper, as is required by the public participation provisions in sections 99 and 100 of NEMBA.

The High Court found that the then Minister did not fully comply with the public consultation requirements of NEMBA and set aside the moratorium with immediate effect. The Minister then applied to the High Court for leave to appeal, which application was dismissed with costs. The Minister then sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, which court also dismissed the application. This resulted in the application for leave to appeal before the Constitutional Court.

The EWT took a decision in 2016 to apply to the Constitutional Court to be an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in this case and is disappointed that the case will not be going ahead. While the EWT did not, and continues not to, condone or support the procedural flaws in the DEA’s inadequate public participatory process, the EWT made the decision to apply to be amicus for the following reasons:

1. The EWT was, and continues to be, concerned about the High Court’s order, which was to effectively set aside the moratorium retrospectively. Given the serious nature of the rhino horn trade crisis and its far-reaching consequences for rhino populations, wildlife crime and international trade, the EWT’s concern is that the High Court erred when they set aside the moratorium ab initio, which means that it was declared invalid right back to its initial inception in 2009, instead of only when the public consultation was allegedly incomplete with the 2013 reinstatement. A worrying consequence of the setting-aside of the moratorium retrospectively is the application by two of the accused in a rhino horn syndicate criminal trial of at least 10 people. The accused have, subsequent to this judgement, applied for the bulk of the charges against them to be withdrawn as they were charged for, inter alia, illegal possession of rhino horns under provincial Ordinances at a time when the moratorium was in effect. This could also potentially have an effect on various pending large criminal trials.
2. The EWT believes that the High Court should have afforded the Minister the opportunity to address the public consultation procedural shortcomings of the instatement of the moratorium.
Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court dismissed the appeal without giving reasons for its finding, except that the appeal had no prospects of success.

As there is legal precedent, and courts have the judicial discretion, to allow government departments the opportunity to rectify procedural flaws, it is disappointing that the Constitutional Court did not suspend the operation of the High Court’s order.

The scourge of rhino poaching and illegal wildlife trade is decimating wildlife populations globally and South Africa is being particularly hard hit. It is vital that the full might of the law is brought against those who engage in illegal wildlife trade and profit from the decimation of our wildlife populations. The hard work of a large number of law enforcement authorities should not be undone by legal loopholes, and justice must be brought to bear against those who profit from wildlife slaughter and illegal trade.

End

Contacts
Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert
Head of Conservation
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
harrietd@ewt.org.za

Adam Pires
Wildlife in Trade Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
adamp@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Victory for biodiversity in uMkhomazi River Valley

 

ewtbirdlife

31 March 2017

Conservation organisations, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa, welcome the rejection of the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed construction of a raw water supply dam in the uMkhomazi catchment, KwaZulu-Natal, by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). With passionate support from private landowners, these organisations, amongst others, challenged the proposal due to serious environmental concerns raised, and view the rejection as a victory for biodiversity.

swallow

Although the dam has been proposed by the Department of Water and Sanitation to supply water to the area’s people, its construction is deemed to be an unfavourable option by hydrologists and biodiversity experts alike, due to the pressing need for (less costly) improved catchment management in the area. Catchment management actions could include the protection of healthy grasslands and rehabilitation of overgrazed land and wetlands, which would increase natural vegetation cover and interception of rainfall, and prevent sedimentation, which, if not addressed would lead to siltation of a new dam over time. The experts also called for improved Water Conservation and Demand Management (WCDM) in this and the adjacent catchments’ existing water systems.

The proposed construction is intended to take place in close proximity to several known nesting sites of the Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea), which is Critically Endangered in South Africa. These beautiful birds have experienced dramatic population crashes in recent years, and there are currently fewer than 100 birds left, and fewer than 35 nests in the whole of South Africa. With the biggest population residing in KZN, it seemed unthinkable that construction, which could put these birds at risk, would go ahead in this area and that threats and alternatives were not adequately researched prior to costly EIA development.

The environmental consultants for the project organised a dedicated Biodiversity Working Group, which included the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). DEA’s team noted that the proposed project has the potential to inflict detrimental impacts on various species of conservation significance, notably the Blue Swallow, with the possible result being the local extinction of that species. Of additional concern is the fact that the proposed site supports populations of Pennington’s Protea Butterfly (Capys penningtoni) and Riverine Keeled Millipede (Gnomeskelus fluvialis), which are found only in the uMkhomazi River Valley region, and nowhere else in the world. As no clear mitigation measures were included in the EIR, the construction of the dam at this site may result in habitat destruction and the extinction of these species. The EIR also did not adequately address the impacts on aquatic species and wetland habitats on and around the proposed site.

The applicants will have the opportunity to address these, and other, concerns raised by DEA in their rejection of the EIR, and should the applicants resubmit their application, we would encourage NGOs and the public to comment on the new document. However, the EWT and BirdLife South Africa, as well as private landowners who have been custodians of these birds and their nests for many years, are grateful for DEA’s swift response in dealing with these concerns. It is refreshing to see environmental, and specifically biodiversity issues, taken seriously when it comes to development, and we look forward to continuing work to preserve the species of this special region.
End

Contacts
Catherine Hughes
Manager: Threatened Grassland Species Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
catherineh@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

Daniel Marnewick
Manager: Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme
BirdLife South Africa
Tel: +27 11 789 1122
daniel.marnewick@birdlife.org.za

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For Frogs’ Sake!

Leap Day 2017-36

Dr Jeanne Tarrant, Threatened Amphibian Programme Manager, and Esté Matthew, Drylands Conservation Programme Field Officer

JeanneT@ewt.org.za and EstherM@ewt.org.za

Friday 24th February saw the EWT attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest game of leapfrog. This event formed part of the 4th national Leap Day for Frogs – an awareness day to bring attention to the plight of frogs, but also to celebrate the diversity of frogs we have in South Africa. The day encourages everyone in South Africa – schools, companies and individuals – to take part and do something to highlight frogs, be it frog art, dressing in green or building a pond. This year we literally leapt for frogs to bring attention to these amazing animals. The current record for the most number of people playing leapfrog is held by New Zealand with 1,348 participants, so we were hoping for 1,500. In the end, we had 770 participants taking part simultaneously. Unfortunately, our transport brought the remainder of learners too far past the designated start time, so we were forced to do the jumping with those present. A further 300 learners arrived late but did do some jumping of their own, bringing the total number of attendees at the event to over 1,000.

Despite not leaping into the record books this year, we are really pleased with the outcomes. No doubt it’s a first for South Africa! Counting the learners that arrived late, we had over 1,000 people jumping for frogs on the Durban beachfront and, more importantly, raising awareness for frogs, which are among the most threatened animals in the world. Most participants were school groups, and they received educational packs sponsored by Struik Nature, so we certainly achieved our aim of educating more people about frogs. The atmosphere was great, and lots of fun was had by all! The news of the attempt travelled far and wide, reaching even Afghanistan and Australia!

Not to be outdone, the EWT’s Drylands Conservation Programme staff temporarily traded in their hiking boots for gumboots, in support of Leap Day for Frogs. On 24 February, staff introduced Grade 3 and 4 learners from the JJ Booysen Primary School in Loxton to the fascinating world of amphibians at the EWT’s Karoo Indigenous Plant Nursery. Altogether 78 learners, many of whom had never seen frogs before, enthusiastically took part in a variety of fun educational activities aimed at teaching them about amphibians in the arid Karoo environment. Activities included a frog long-jump, “frog egg” run, building puzzles and colouring-in.

Three intrepid volunteers from Loxton helped staff to collect frogs in preparation for this event. These frogs, used to show children the different species, were safely released back into their ponds afterwards.

Other Leap Day for Frogs events were held at various schools in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape, and at a Back-to-Nature Event with Kloof Conservancy on 18 February at Tanglewood Nature Reserve.

Leap Day for Frogs is celebrated annually in the last week of February, so be sure to get involved next year! You can find out more at www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za

Endangered Wildlife Trust website: https://www.ewt.org.za

This work is supported by Rand Merchant Bank, the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Fund, eThekwini Parks and Recreation, uShaka Marine World, Struik Nature, Kloof Conservancy, and Capri-Sun. Many thanks to the volunteers from uShaka Marine World and DUCT who helped us during the leapfrog event.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Steven

Nduduza Khoza, EWT Eco Ranger; Steven Segang, African Crane Conservation Programme Highveld Community Projects Officer; Naledi Hlatswayo, Urban Conservation Programme Eco Schools Intern; and Nkosinathi Nama, Source to Sea Programme Amathole Fresh Water Species Project Coordinator

nduduzoecoranger@gmail.com, StevenS@ewt.org.za, NalediH@ewt.org.za, and NkosinathiN@ewt.org.za

World Wetlands Day is officially celebrated on 2 February, and this year’s theme was “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction.” The EWT celebrated South Africa’s special and vulnerable wetlands with a number of events and activities throughout the month of February.

Celebrations kicked off on World Wetlands Day itself, when team members from the African Crane Conservation Programme and Threatened Amphibian Programme hosted a stand at an event at the Greater Edendale Mall wetland. Despite the 35 °C heat, the day was a huge success, with 300 learners from 10 schools discovering the value of our wetlands! The EWT’s stand was biodiversity-focused, and covered the links between the species that live in the wetlands, and others that use the wetland for different activities. The learners were very enthusiastic and keen to learn more, and were given information packs about wetlands to take home with them.

Members of the African Crane Conservation Programme also hosted Laerskool Chrissie on 15 February for a special outing to celebrate our wetlands. Seventeen grade 6 learners were taken on a field trip on one of the farms in the area, and Steven Segang, Highveld Community Projects Officer, highlighted the importance of celebrating wetlands as well as securing and protecting them, as they are vital in providing clean water. The group also did miniSASS with the learners and they enjoyed identifying invertebrates and seeing fish in the river system. miniSASS is a simple tool which can be used by anyone to monitor the health of a river. A sample of macroinvertebrates (small animals) is collected from the water, and depending on which groups are found, this gives a measure of the general river health and water quality in that river.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, hosted a World Wetlands Day Celebration on 17 February 2017 in Esselen Park Pan, Tembisa. The purpose of this event was to increase awareness around the importance of wetlands amongst the communities surrounding the Esselen Park wetland. The EWT was invited to showcase the work we do to conserve wetlands, and the species dependent on them, across South Africa. Visitors from local communities, schools, and partner institutions enjoyed presentations and entertainment by cultural dancers and drummers. School children were also invited to share the importance of wetlands through story telling.

Nathi 2

On 24 February, the EWT, Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA), Amathole Forestry Company PTY (LTD) (AFC) and Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) hosted an event for learners aimed at promoting awareness about the importance of wetlands to society and healthy, functioning ecosystems. Forty learners from Phandulwazi Agricultural School, Siyabonga Secondary School, Gcato Secondary School and Crab Bush Primary School were invited to spend the day outside, in an actual wetland, situated high up in the Amathole Mountains on AFC land. Learners ranged from grade 5 to grade 9, and this event offered them a chance to experience firsthand what they had been taught in their curricula in school. In addition to the 40 learners, six students who have been trained in environmental practices by the Nkonkobe Economic Development Agency (NEDA) were given practical experience in environmental education by assisting with the day’s activities and contributing to the education of the learners.

The programme was developed by WESSA’s Kerry Mclean and Ntosh Tsheyi, with contributions from the other partners. The day’s activities highlighted four main topics, namely Wetland Ecology, Wetland Soils, Impacts on Wetlands and Functions of a Wetland. A station was set up for each of these themes, and manned by an expert from one of the organisations and either one or two NEDA students. Learners attended each station in a mixed group of ten learners per group. The day was concluded with lunch kindly donated by AFC and an informal debriefing session where learners had to give feedback about what they’d learnt and how they would apply it in future within their communities.

This was the first such event hosted by the four organisations, and the hope is that it becomes an annual event that can be grown and spread throughout the rest of the catchment. The main objective for the EWT’s Source to Sea Programme is promoting healthy catchments for increased water security to benefit all, and such an event plays a critical role in educating future custodians of the catchment about the important role they play.

Thank you to RMB, EU Aid, European Union, Nedbank Green Trust, N3 Toll Concession, Greater Edendale Mall, DEA, GDARD, Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, WESSA, AFC, DAFF and NEDA for their support.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saying no to single-use plastic

 

plastic

Claire Relton, ACCP Intern
ClaireR@ewt.org.za

During March we celebrate a number of water-related environmental days, including International Day of Action for Rivers (14 March), National Water Week (20–24 March), and World Water Day (22 March). Water has recently been a very topical subject in South Africa, with the country feeling the effects of drought through water restrictions, increased food prices and frightening visuals of empty dams.

One impact on this essential resource that is not often given as much consideration by consumers as it should be is the use of single-use plastic. These products include soft plastics such as drinking straws, plastic packaging, plastic utensils, plastic bags, product bags and disposable cups. Single-use plastic is typically created for only one use, has a short useful lifespan, is unlikely to be reused, and is either difficult or impossible to recycle. This means that while we may only use these products once, they linger almost indefinitely as waste in landfills, or end up as pollution, not only on land but in our rivers and oceans too.

Species that live in rivers or oceans are particularly susceptible to the threats associated with plastic bags, which, together with plastic fragments, are frequently misidentified as food resources (for example, they are mistaken by turtles for jellyfish), and consumed accidentally. This hinders digestion of natural food resources, leading to gut-blockage, asphyxiation, starvation, strandings and death of marine mammals and turtles. Plastic drinking straws similarly tend to end up in rivers and oceans, where they can injure or kill wildlife. So serious is their potential impact, that global movements such as the OneLessStraw campaign have been developed to encourage consumers to give up their plastic drinking straws. Microbeads are also of serious concern. These solid, tiny plastic particles (typically < 1 mm in size) are used extensively in personal care and household cleaning products, such as toothpastes, exfoliating face and body scrubs, and washing powders. Microbeads have replaced traditional biodegradable exfoliating products, such as salt granules and ground nut shells. These plastic beads are washed down the drain and eventually make their way into rivers, lakes and, ultimately, the ocean. These tiny particles have the potential to absorb persistent organic pollutants, and become incorporated into the food chain, as microplastics are consumed by various marine and riverine animals. The ingestion of microplastics can demonstrably affect an organism’s reproductive success, feeding, growth and movement, as these particles can be taken up into body tissues and fluids.

So what can you do to make a difference? The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) advocates making the following small lifestyle changes which, when implemented routinely on a large-scale societal basis, could significantly reduce South Africa’s single-use plastic consumption and the associated environmental threats of plastic waste and pollution:

  1. Reduce consumption by avoiding purchasing unnecessary single-use plastic products, and when necessary, replace them with environmentally-friendlier alternatives. For example, always make sure to take reusable shopping bags with you when shopping and never pay for single-use plastic carrier bags.
  2. Choose recyclable packaging.
  3. Buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
  4. When alternative products are unavailable, inconvenient or expensive, plastic products (designed for single-use) can be reused a number of times if washed out after use. These include plastic bags, bottles, cutlery, etc.
  5. Select products packaged using non-plastic materials.
  6. Up-/down-cycle plastic products into something else, for example flower pots.
  7. Bring your own container to restaurants and markets.
  8. Make your own products, such as juices, smoothies and even cleaning products.
  9. Think carefully about how you package your lunches – use re-useable containers as much as possible to limit the usage of cling wrap, plastic bags, etc.
  10. Find out which plastics can and cannot be recycled and what types of plastics your local recycling drop-off facility will accept.
  11. Buy refills.
  12. Avoid body and face scrubs, shower gels, toothpastes, sunscreens and washing powders that contain microbeads (look for polyethylene, polypropylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyethylene terephthalate, or polystyrene in the list of ingredients). As an alternative to shower gels packaged in plastic bottles or tubes, rather choose soap bars packaged in wax paper or cardboard boxes.

For more information, take a look at our position statement on single-use plastic.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This World Wildlife Day, the Endangered Wildlife Trust is asking you to help keep the wild in wildlife.

world-wildlife-day

 

World Wildlife Day is celebrated annually on 3 March, but with ever-increasing human expansion into previously wild habitats, what chance does our wildlife have to stay wild? The EWT is inviting members of the public to join us in keeping the wild in our wildlife by making ethical choices and respecting nature for what it is.

Keeping wild animals as pets

As much as we all love wild animals, the EWT discourages keeping them as pets. There are serious welfare issues to consider, such as whether you can provide the correct diet, proper exercise, socialisation and as natural as possible way of life for a wild animal. Of equal concern is the threat that the illicit trade in wild animals as pets poses to wild populations. Every year thousands of chameleons, snakes, iguanas and other reptiles are illegally removed from their natural habitats and smuggled between countries all over the world. For instance, Sungazers, a species of lizard found only in South Africa, are under increasing threat due to illegal capture for the pet trade. These special lizards do not breed in captivity, and sadly also fail to thrive if removed and then returned to the wild. Other iconic species which are at risk due to illegal trade are our cranes, which are being taken from the wild and turned into domestic pets in many parts of Africa, including here in South Africa.

The lack of successful and strict regulation of the trade in some wild animals means that South Africa may very well be assisting the decimation of biodiversity in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Madagascar. The current legal import into South Africa of thousands of African Grey Parrots; chameleons and mammals from the island of Madagascar; Abyssinian Ground Hornbills; Southern Ground Hornbills and Grey Crowned Cranes from East African countries (all wild-caught species) are examples of how poor regulation assists with the decimation of wild populations of animals in other countries.

It is important to bear in mind that wild animals generally do not make suitable pets, and often end up dumped when they become unmanageable, which is a further act of cruelty. In most instances wild animals are incapable of expressing their emotions or discomforts and thus pet owners are blissfully unaware of the suffering of these animals, particularly the reptiles, amphibians and birds kept in small tanks or cages.

Irresponsible wild animal experiences

In this era of social media, wild animals are also falling prey to the selfie generation, with more and more stories arising of animals being removed from their natural environments so that they can be photographed – often with tragic consequences for the animals. Tourists also desire a one of a kind experience and instead of appreciating the natural wild state of our environment, many look for quick bucket list ticks – petting a lion cub, walking with a cheetah, riding an elephant, swimming with dolphins, or even just guaranteed Big 5 sightings. The EWT encourages responsible tourism and is opposed to wild animal interactions.

Petting zoos and “walking with” experiences are especially popular, particularly with large carnivores such as Lions and Cheetahs. While these experiences may seem remarkable, they are fraught with problems. Cubs are often removed from their mothers for hand-rearing and use in petting zoos. This is unethical and stressful for both the mother and her cubs. Carnivores are generally good mothers and there is no biological need to deliberately and routinely remove cubs from their mothers. Cubs can be handled by numerous people in one day, which is stressful for the cub as it should spend a large part of its day sleeping. It is reported that cubs are sometimes drugged to keep them placid for petting. Especially concerning is the fact that there are links between Lion breeding facilities and canned hunting of Lions. When cubs get too old and boisterous for petting they are removed from the touch programmes and many enter into the supply chain for canned hunting. Other welfare concerns include a lack of regard for social structures and a lack of enrichment for these animals in captive facilities, leading to boredom and stereotypical behaviour.

Other wildlife interactions, such as elephant-back riding and baited shark diving, also raise serious welfare and ethical considerations, as the animals are not engaging in natural behaviour.

What should you do?

Unlike the majority of developed countries and many less developed nations, we are fortunate in South Africa to still have many wild spaces, and to be able to enjoy nature on our doorstep, even in many of our urban centres. Let’s appreciate the wild in wildlife, rather than trying to tame it for our own enjoyment. Make ethical choices when it comes to visiting wildlife facilities and say no to wild animal interactions. Let’s also accept that in most instances wild animals are best appreciated from afar, and choose not to keep them as pets. With a little respect for our natural environment, we can all help to keep the wild in wildlife this World Wildlife Day, and beyond!

End

 

Contact

Belinda Glenn

Communication and Brand Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

belindag@ewt.org.za

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Endangered Wildlife Trust and Rainforest Trust join forces to save South Africa’s rarest snake

logo

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), in partnership with Rainforest Trust, has embarked on its first ever snake conservation initiative, and confirmed the continued existence of the diminutive Albany Adder, which, through human-induced habitat destruction and poaching, has possibly become the rarest snake species on the entire planet.

Albany Adders are endemic to a very small region in the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. Since their initial discovery in the 1990s, only 12 individuals have ever been officially recorded. The snake species which was previously declared as the rarest in the world is the St. Lucia Racer from the Caribbean, with only 18–100 individuals estimated to still exist. Based on the current numbers then, the Albany Adder could quite easily have the dubious honour of being the world’s rarest and most threatened snake!

albany adder.png

The Albany Adder’s natural habitat continues to be destroyed due to human activities such as cultivation, plantation forestry, urbanisation, and sand-mining for the cement industry. Albany Adders are also highly sought after by smugglers and poachers, who illegally remove them from the wild to feed the demand in the international pet trade. These factors have not only lead to the Albany Adder being listed as Critically Endangered, but to the species being considered extinct in a number of areas where it used to occur.

It was due to these severe threats to the species that the EWT and the Rainforest Trust developed a pilot project with the primary aim of discovering whether or not the species was still in existence. The last official record of an Albany Adder being discovered was in 2007, so the possibility that it may already be too late to save these snakes existed when the team took to the field in the Eastern Cape to look for them. Happily, after six full days of searching for these tiny and exceptionally camouflaged snakes, a single female Albany Adder was found as she crossed the road. Later that evening, a young male snake was also discovered.

adder2.png

Due to the exciting discovery of these two individual Albany Adders, the team is now working on ways of securing additional funding in order to protect habitat to save this iconic reptile from extinction, and are hoping to develop a declared nature reserve for these snakes. If this were to happen, it would be the first protected area in Africa, if not the world, to be dedicated to the protection of a Critically Endangered snake.

In most provinces in South Africa it is illegal to capture, possess or transport any South African reptile species without a permit. Snakes such as these small adders are very difficult to keep in captivity and most will die within a few months of being removed from the wild. Reptile poachers who are caught face up to ten years jail time and/or a fine of up to R1.5 million. Anyone with information about any illegal reptile poaching activity should contact the EWT.

End

Contacts
Michael Adams
Field Officer: Wildlife in Trade Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
michaela@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

James Lewis
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Officer
Rainforest Trust
james@rainforesttrust.org
www.RainforestTrust.org

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Newly developed camera system to aid the EWT in the prevention of power line collisions

The EWT recently took another important step towards minimising the impact of power lines on birds. As part of a long-term strategic partnership with Eskom, two specially designed cameras were fitted to a stretch of power line in De Aar located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, with the aim of better understanding, and therefore minimising the threats to birds from energy infrastructure.
eskom-camer

The Bird Detection System (BDS) is a South African-designed concept that uses a high-resolution camera with image processing capabilities to detect movement, including birds, in the frame. It was designed when the EWT expressed a need for an affordable, versatile product that would assist in the research of bird collisions. After three years of hard work, dedication and testing, the product was ready to be trialled out in the field. The BDS, which is solar powered, is the first real-time system to transmit data such as video clips or photos directly to a user’s cell phone or data bank, with information uploaded straight to a cloud server for easy retrieval. This enables team members to count birds, identify species, and observe behaviour. The software and settings can also be configured remotely, eliminating the need for field maintenance, while the camera has an hourly self-check system and reboots every 24 hours. The BDS is fully adaptable to user requirements, and can also be used during Environmental Impact Assessments as a tool for specialists conducting surveys.

Eight years of research have shown that the installation location in De Aar is the most impacted by bird mortalities, making it an ideal site for this trial. The EWT Wildlife and Energy Programme Manager, Constant Hoogstad, says, “This device will enable us to gather information about the time of day or night these collisions occur, what the weather conditions are like at the time, and the behaviour of the bird right before colliding with a power line. This will give us far greater insight into what causes these collisions and allow us to find more effective ways to reduce them.”

eskom-logo
End
Contacts
Constant Hoogstad
Manager: Wildlife and Energy Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
constanth@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment