Culling drive planned for Robben Island
Rabbits, fowl and cats to be shot
AN “UNPRECEDENTED culling spree” is set to take place on Robben Island in October. In the firing line are up to 15 000 rabbits, a large number of guinea fowl and just over a dozen feral cats.
Although nearly 3 000 rabbits were culled during several earlier “capture-and-euthanase” programmes, there are still thousands of the feral creatures on the island, causing enormous damage to the World Heritage Site.
Sharpshooter John Kieser has proposed using a high-powered air gun and .22 rifle with subsonic bullets to shoot the rabbits, and a 16-gauge shotgun for the guinea fowl.
Kieser, who expects to get the go-ahead from the Robben Island Museum next week, said shooting the feral animals was the quickest and most humane way of removing them.
He said trapping and euthanasing the rabbits had been impractical and expensive.
It had not even “made a dent” in the population.
“But this is not a gung-ho thing,” he said.
“I’ve never hunted for pleasure in my life.
“But you have to look at the total ecology of the island, not just one animal.”
Kieser has proposed that he, and another experienced shooter, hunt on the outskirts of the residential area in the mornings and afternoons – outside tourist times – and starting in October.
He said the subsonic bullets he proposed using were slower to make sure they didn’t go through the rabbits and hit other animals, such as penguins.
Kieser has previously removed feral rabbits from Bird Island in Algoa Bay and feral cats from Marion, Dassen and Robben islands.
He has been asked to provide a proposal for four months, but says a cull is likely to take longer.
The SPCA has sent the proposal to the NSPCA’s Wildlife Unit and Ethics Committee for their input and advice.
Allan Perrins, chief executive officer of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, said: “The scale and scope of the proposed culling spree is, to the best of our knowledge, unprecedented in the Western Cape.
“We anticipate having our hands full monitoring the process.”
Perrins said their inspectors would not only have to ensure clean and humane culling, but also see to it other species were not traumatised.
Inspectors would also check burrows and nests for young ones, which would be rescued.
Perrins said the SPCA was also concerned about the number of fallow deer on the island, which had increased to an unsustainable population of around 400.
He said the same applied to the island’s exploding populations of black rats, mice, Indian peacocks, Chukar partridges, house sparrows and European starlings.
“These animal populations have not been properly managed.
“Their numbers have swelled significantly since the demise of most of the feral cats, which would probably have predated them – helping to keep their numbers in check.”
He said anything short of a genuine, well-planned, wellexecuted, humane conservation effort would be futile.
James Makola, a senior manager at the heritage department on Robben Island, said a decision on the way forward should be made by next week.
He said they were working closely with the SPCA and hoped to get CapeNature involved.
Makola said they were looking at the possibility of making the meat available, but would need to get a licensed abattoir to do that.
He added they might sterilise some of the animals with chemicals they had imported.