Ricochet News

Nelson Mandela University home to rehabilitated wildlife

By Nicky Willemse - Aug 7, 2018
Nelson Mandela University home to rehabilitated wildlife

The Nelson Mandela University, with its main campus uniquely situated in a nature reserve, has become a safe haven for rehabilitated wild animals.

Over the past few weeks, numerous owls – and even three honey badgers – have been released onto the university's South Campus by Wildline co–director and conservationist Arnold Slabbert, who is passionate about rescuing injured, orphaned or problem wildlife and releasing them back into their natural habitat as quickly as possible.

"When you rehabilitate birds of prey and other animals, you look for a safe, poison-free place to release them. This is usually a temporary base for them – and they spread out into other areas from there," said Slabbert.  

The university is one of several poison-free areas used by Wildline. Another is the port of Ngqura (Coega).

"We only release the animals in areas where they are already found. Honey badgers are found all around Mandela Bay," he said.

One of the newly-released honey badgers had been destroying hives at a bee farm, so needed to be relocated.

"Our work is not just about the animals. We look at the land, the rights of everyone – and we try to alleviate any [human/animal] conflict as much as possible."

Other animals Slabbert has released on the Summerstrand campus over the years include a variety of owls, jackal buzzards, long–crested eagles, brown snake eagles, tortoises, porcupines, snakes, lynx, mongooses, genets and geese.

"Releasing the animals at the university is also helping to get the wildlife balance back after that massive fire [across North and South campuses in early 2017]."

Slabbert has also rescued and treated injured animals from the university, including zebra, springbok, monkeys and a blue duiker, which was hit by a car. "We looked after him and then reintroduced him into the same area where we had found him."

And the university has assisted Slabbert too, by providing live tilapia fish for a recuperating otter to hunt.

The birds of prey released at the university naturally keep the rodent population in check.

Slabbert urges people not to poison mice and rats – as this also poisons the birds that feed on them. He runs a separate business together with Allison Cawood – called Urban Raptor Project – where he introduces or encourages birds of prey, such as rock kestrels, barn owls and African peregrines, into areas where rodents or pigeons are a problem.

The Urban Raptor Project helps keep Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium pest–free in this way – and is also assisting with bird control at university’s Missionvale, North and South campuses.

"Sometimes we put up nest boxes to encourage wild birds of prey to take up residence."

Wildline is a private rehabilitation centre, with permits from government to deal with all wild animals, including threatened species, across the Eastern Cape.

"We receive animals from as far as Somerset East, Addo and Jansenville. Even African penguins come to us on odd occasions – and we pass them on to Samrec [the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre].

"We're not a zoo. We're conservationists. Everything we rehabilitate must be able to go back to the wild. If they can't go back, we don't keep them. We have to put them down."

Nelson Mandela University’s Sustainability Manager Andre Hefer said: “Our core values at the university include sustainability and environmental stewardship, so we want to and need to work with companies that promote sustainable practices.

“Wildline and the Urban Raptor Project fulfil that role, with regards to our partnership around wild animal release at and around our nature reserve, and problem animal control.

“We hope to engage with natural animal control on a permanent basis, across all of our campuses.”

Image: Conservationist Arnold Slabbert prepares to release a spotted eagle owl at Nelson Mandela University.