Culling drive planned for Robben Is­land

Rab­bits, fowl and cats to be shot

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HE­LEN BAM­FORD

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.

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