Conservation & Environmental Matters

Gauteng Conservancy newsletters

Ear to the Ground – No 12

Gauteng Conservancy Association e-newsletter
August 2006
In this e-newsletter:
Conservancy news – Peglerae, Thorntree, Rhenosterspruit
Useful info - How to move a giraffe;  Bird map
Events – Congo crocodiles, Organic farming, Country Fair, AmaGogga/Blomo
Legislation and Enforcement - Libradene rears it’s head again

Green Scorpions;  How our President views EIAs (eina…!)
Useful numbers – see bottom of this e-mail
All previous Ears available on our web site

Conservancy snippets

The Armstrongs in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy were mystified when a skull was discovered on their property in May, only centimeters under the ground surface.  (Murder?! Another Mrs Ples?)

An archaeologist and two officials from the Heritage Agency (SAHRA) came to investigate and the verdict was:  a female, San, from the Late Iron Age, buried in ash as was the custom then.  When the rest of the skeleton was uncovered in June, a baby skull was found as well, but there was no sign of the rest of the body. Pottery shards were also collected.

“There were more odd aspects,” says Alastair Armstrong.  “The woman’s wrist was pierced and one leg was found in a very strange position.  Her skeleton and the baby skull have been taken for further investigation.

“When we told the archaeologists about all the interesting features of Rhenosterspruit they said they would be very keen to explore some of it.  This Conservancy is full of surprises!”  

o       A polished tortoise

Shamwari, a registered rehabilitation centre for injured wildlife has just opened in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy.  Run by Pam and Gavin Orbell, the centre does not charge for treatments and donations are always welcome.  Once the animals have recovered, appropriate sites are found for their release.

“We recently treated a leopard tortoise which was being sold outside a supermarket in Muldersdrift.  The tortoise’s shell had been polished with shoe polish and it had a hole drilled into the shell.  This poses a moral dilemma – buying it encourages the illegal trade in indigenous wildlife but by not paying for the tortoise it would have been impossible to rescue it,” says Pam.  “We want to encourage people who see this type of trading to contact Nature Conservation (011 355 1257 or in an emergency: 082 759 0078).  They will assist you.”  

Shamwari needs old towels, cages, feeding bowls, cat boxes, newspapers, sky kennels and crates. “And, if anyone has a glass-fronted fridge that they don’t want anymore, I’d be delighted to take it over!” Pam adds.   Her number:  (012) 205-1161.


Peglerae Conservancy in the Magaliesberg suffers a bit from a split personality – it straddles two provinces, Gauteng and North-west.  This did not deter the locals – they opted for two chairpersons.  Johan Janse van Rensburg is the chairman of the North-west portion and John Wesson chairs the Gauteng side.  

“We recently addressed a meeting for the public at the De Wildt Cheetah Centre to explain what Peglerae stands for and what the advantages are of being a member of a conservancy,” says John.  “We’re in the process of registering the Gauteng side via the GCA.”

The day started with a cheetah run.  “It’s a privilege to witness a king cheetah at full speed!” says Johan.  “After our presentation we were taken on a tour of the facility and were given background on the cheetah breeding scheme.”

(For us ignoramuses:  the Peglerae is an endangered aloe, growing in that area.)


Koes, burgers!  Dangerous work

Two members of Thorntree Conservancy came under fire while investigating illegal initiation schools in the koppies.  “It was found that residents were target-practicing near a public open space and our members were in the right place at the wrong time.  The bullets were so close we could hear them hitting the trees around us! Very scary and very dangerous,” said chairman Ivan Parkes.  “My appeal to residents is not to fire guns indiscriminately - you never know who is at the other end.”  “And what about the15 kids at the initiation school!” exclaimed the other Thorntree member, who hit the ground “very fast”.

“There are legal and illegal initiation schools,” he says.  “In this particular case we found that:

·         The children at the schools had been kidnapped,

·         Their parents had not given consent and didn’t know where they were,

·         The conditions they were kept under were appalling - no sanitation, no water and very little food.

“This is a money-making racket – nothing to do with culture.  The parents are forced to pay large sums to get their boys back.  In the past we have had to remove these children by ambulance – they were in a critical condition.”

     Thorntree cleans up - again

Thorntree members cleared 3 km of road verges recently. “The amount of rubbish in this short distance is mind boggling!” said Carol Donachie.  “Sixty two plastic bags donated by the Plastics Federation of SA were filled. These clean-ups are not only for the children, we need the participation of the moms and dads too.  Despite having to shout at the speedsters whizzying past a lot of fun and laughter was all part of the day.

“A special thanks to Sergeant Jay Kaufmann for his help with the traffic control and general security of the children.   Our Ward Councillor, Rob Jones, was also part of the team.”

Carol Smith (Thorntree committee) followed up with another campaign.  This time the kids from the ABC Children’s Home (Walkerville Fruit Farms) were commandeered.  (Much more fun than school, no doubt.))   

o       Community Police Forums and conservancies work together

At a fun-filled day in Walkerville the public was given info on the work of the Police, on Sector Policing and on the activities of the local conservancies.  “Various police units were there and thrilled the crowd with their demonstrations (dogs, equestrian stock theft etc),” said Robert Marais of Thorntree.  “A jumping castle helped to work off the kids energy and boerewors rolls satisfied the hungry.”

Useful info

How to move a giraffe

What’s your problem?  The GCA has a knack for finding solutions, information, and the right contacts for a variety of conservation issues.  Henk van Heerden of the Leeugedacht Conservancy contacted the GCA to ask about the relocation of giraffe.  

Leon Lotter of GDACE advised us that conveyance and catching permits are necessary.   These are available from the Permit Office (011 355 1207).  Please note - giraffe can only be kept on areas of 400 ha or larger.  

Leon suggested we use their Conservation Hotline if we come across irregularities or needed information re conservation ordinances:  082 759 0078 or (011) 355-1257.  The latest copy of the ordinance is available from the GCA – e-mail us on <> for an electronic copy.

Other useful numbers:  the Environmental Crime Hotline:  0800 701 701 and 0800 205 005.  

If you do use this number to report a crime, please get a reference number and advise the GCA so we can follow up if needed.  Calls can be anonymous.

Bird mapping

Anyone been birding lately?  Seen something unusual perhaps?  How would you like to show the world what you've seen while contributing data to the Online Natural World Sightings Database, a new interactive mapping database that has recently been launched?  It is aimed at helping organisations such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust to better understand the species they are concerned about.

The Natural World website can be found at and registering on to it allows access to the Map where you can view other users’ sightings, add your own sightings, analyse movements and trends of different species and create bird species lists for any point in Southern Africa and the sea, all against the backdrop of a zoomable interactive map. The map also features excellent vegetation datasets, 3D terrain images, topographical images and all the usual datasets of roads, rivers, towns and national parks. There is also a selection of other datasets added, such as 1:10000, 1:50000 and 1:250000 grids, 100km town radii, picture points etc.  

Reminders – events, courses…

Organic farming / gardening course

Course on organic farming/gardening on Saturday 19 August. Place: Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy.  Cost:  R500 pp, including teas and lunch.  Time:  9:00 until 17:00.  Directions will be supplied when you book: (011) 701-3176 or e-mail <> .

Hennie Eksteen from Graskop in Mpumalanga will present the course which covers soil deterioration, micro-organisms and mulch, the use of earthworms, weed management, natural disease and pest control and many other aspects of organic farming and gardening, plus grazing and veld management.

Conservancy Fair

Annual Country Fair in the Welverdiend Triangle Conservancy on Sunday, 3 September.  Midvaal Council is giving it its full support and thousands of people are expected.  Conservancies are welcome to come and blow their own trumpets and sell their wares – your stand is free.  Contact Charmaine on 072 211 3204 to book a table.

A Crocodile picnic

You’re invited!  Come and listen to amazing stories plus pictures of the dwarf crocodiles in the Congo Basin.  Bring along your picnic basket, enjoy an outdoor dinner in the bush.  Fire, pap and gravy provided.

Date:   Saturday,19 August, starting at 15:00.

Place: Imbabala Tea-garden, Buffelsdrift Conservancy (north-east Gauteng)

Cost:   Adults R50; Kids:  R40 (preschool free of charge)

A leading crocodile expert, Dr Fritz Huchzemeyer, will take us on an intriguing tour of the Congo Basin.  During the early survey work Dr Huchzemeyer and the survey team crossed the whole region on foot, wading knee deep in water through a swamp forest that had never been traversed before, not even by local villagers!

Please book.  Contact Johan or Heidie Rademan, 082 375 4717/8 or (012) 808 0599.


Yebo Gogga, Yebo Amablomo

Hosted by Wits University, this exhibition runs from Wednesday 4th October to Sunday 8th October 2006. The theme this year is muthi plants.  The GCA has booked a stall.  Assistance with manning the stall will be welcomed.
Legislation and Enforcement

Green Scorpions

The first batch of Green Scorpions has been trained and let loose on environmental perpetrators.  These Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) have far-reaching powers of investigation and enforcement.  By the end of the year 600 will have been trained.

One interesting aspect:  In terms of NEMA, a court may order that up to 25% of the fine levied on an offender be paid to the informer whose evidence led to the successful conviction, or who assisted in bringing the offender to justice!  This is a far cry from objectors being slapped with law suits by developers.  (Remember SLAPP – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation!)

The GCA is also investigating the possibility of having Honorary Conservancy Officers trained.  Once trained, they will be deployed in our conservancies.

Some light on the new EIA regulations

In July Bob Dehning and Michael Barnes (both on the GCA committee) attended a seminar at Cameron and Cross Incorporated entitled "Law and the New EIA regulations".  Issues pertaining to the law-making process, downfalls of the previous regulations and an in-depth analysis into the advantages / disadvantages and potential pitfalls of the new EIA regulations were presented.

“The seminar was thorough and will assist us in early recognition and evaluation of applications which conservancies regularly deal with,” said Michael.  For more light on these issues contact Bob:  082 651 1501 or Michael:  083 736 9111.

Conservancy members have made great strides in the past three years – from being well-meaning, passionate protectors of the environment but totally ignorant of the law – to well-informed, resolute campaigners for conservation.  The message going out is “Moenie met ons ploeg nie!”

Libradene won’t lie down

Nicole Barlow of the ECA (Environment and Conservation Association) who blew the whistle on a filling station being built on a wetland in Libradene on the East Rand, is still facing a battle.  The Mail&Guardian (M&G) reported that “developers are again bulldozing the wetland” and that the developer, Petro Props, “is intent on finishing the filling station”.  Permission for this filling station was obtained fraudulently, according to a letter to Nicole from Pam Yako, DG of Environmental Affairs.

Nicole made legal history in May when a High Court judge threw out an application by Petro Props to prevent her from “unlawfully harassing” the company.   Petro Props intends to appeal against the judgement.  Nicole says she does not have the money to go to court.  “I am tired, but I am more determined than ever to stop this form of riding-roughshod-over-the-law type of development.”  Nicole was interviewed on Radio 702 again this past week.

The ECA (Nicole is the chairperson) is an Associate organisation of the GCA.  Their mission statement  -  to protect Wetlands from environmental damage and unauthorised development, fits well with the GCA’s own goals and GCA has already assisted them with technical support.

Assault on green laws
The M&G reported on a disturbing statement made by President Thabo Mbeki, to the effect that “green laws” were causing delays which were contributing to “a quite considerable slowing down of economic activity.”  Politicians are viewing EIAs as the problem, but Dr Nick King of the EWT said politicians who had a problem with EIAs were aiming at the wrong target.  “EIAs are just a tool.  Environmental concerns are real.”  It was not a case of delaying development, he said, but getting the right development which followed the necessary legal process.
Mbeki said that because of a lack of capacity there was a “frightening” backlog of EIAs at provincial level.  So – instead of attacking EIAs, the focus should surely be to rectify this lack of capacity!  

Sizwe Matshikiza, spokesperson for GDACE, was quoted in M&G recently as stating that the proposed housing development and reservoir next to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens on the West Rand were "necessary for economic development, to reduce unemployment and to reduce poverty".  Thousands of townhouse units are planned for this ridge and the reservoir will be a few hundred metres from the black eagles' nesting sites.  Matshikiza quotes the "empirical evidence of the huge local communities..."  Job creation and poverty alleviation are then trotted out as well.  This seems to be required by all officials nowadays.  They have to be seen to be on the side of the poor, even if it makes no difference to the people at grassroots level.

From previous dealings with GDACE it appears that the environment is not its mandate at all.  It cites "providing socio-economic benefits" in virtually all its documents, sometimes after lengthy explanations of how a development would harm the environment.  Maybe it should be renamed:  Department of Socio-economic Benefits (DOSEB).  Then everyone would be clear as to what to expect.  Developers would have fewer delays.  Environmentalists would know from the beginning not to oppose anything destructive and to use their energies to make as much money as the developers do.

Having ended on that positive note – don’t give up!  “Ons is miskien nie so sterk nie, maar ons is so aanhoudend!”

Helen Duigan  (011) 701-3176

Useful numbers in this e-newsletter:

Shamwari Wildlife Rehab Centre:  Pam Orbell:  (012) 205-1161       
 Illegal trading of wild animals – Nature Conservation: (011) 355-1257 or 082 759 0078
Conveyance and catching permits:  (011) 355-1207
Info on conservation ordinances:  082 759 0078 and (011) 355-1257
Environmental Crimes Hotline:  0800 701 701  or 0800 205 005 (complaints can be anonymous)
Birding maps:
Organic farming course: or (011) 701-3176
Conservancy Fair:  Charmaine:  072 211 3204
Crocodile Picnic:  Johan & Heidi Rademan:  082 375 4717/8 or (012) 808-0599
Info on EIA regs:  Bob Dehning  082 651 1501;  Michael Barnes   083 736 9111.
Ivan Parkes (GCA chairman):