SPCA hones in on illegal exotic animals
FOR BRETT Glasby, an average day at work includes tangling with venomous snakes, freeing abused animals and tracking down those being sold illegally.
As head of the local SPCA wildlife unit, Glasby knows all too well that while the organisation spends plenty of time taking care of strays and abandoned animals, things get way more complex in the arena of illegally-owned pets, including monkeys and snakes.
It’s well known that poachers make millions from the animal trade. But in Cape Town a major concern is exotic snakes – like the South American yellow anaconda – which are imported illegally, then sold to owners who have no idea how to handle them.
Glasby has worked with snakes for 20 years. He has been bitten countless times and even developed an allergy to the venom of the rinkhals, or ringnecked spitting cobra.
“The risk of a snake bite is just another part of the job,” he said. “Luckily, I haven’t been bitten by anything too dangerous, and the most I’ve suffered was a headache.
“I always say people shouldn’t fear animals, but respect them. Because when you fail to respect them you get hurt.”
SPCA inspectors often have to go into people’s homes to coax out snakes. Residents unwittingly provide a perfect environment – including plenty of prey in the form of birds and mice – and shelter, like foliage and or a pool for water.
“Whether they escape from their owners’ homes or are dumped in the veld, you can’t really blame the snake living on a property that has everything it needs. From Constantia to Mitchells Plain, you can find them everywhere.”
The SPCA also rescues dozens of animals that could find themselves turned into muti, specifically snakes and tortoises.
“(People) drill a hole in the shell of the tortoise and attach a chain to it. The chain is then fastened underneath a bed, which is said to improve sex. Tortoises may also be chained inside a chicken coop in the belief that they will make the chicken lay more eggs.”
Smaller tortoises are killed and their shells hollowed out and filled with herbs to make a lucky charm.
Glasby said children collected mountain tortoises and sold them to sangomas for R10 each. A sangoma could sell it on for R1 000.
Exotic snakes are often kept by people until they get too big to handle, or the owner loses interest. But because they’re exotic, they’d probably die if released.
Glasby said about 100 venomous exotic snakes had been surrendered, confiscated or captured by the SPCA in the past four years. “The cases where these animals are dumped into the veld to ‘live free’ are probably the worst,” he said. “The snakes are doomed to a slow and painful death, and their owners are usually the bravado types who just get the animal to show off to their friends, as if it was a game. The animal didn’t ask to come here and will die because someone didn’t take the time to understand and respect the animal.”
One of Glasby’s most memorable stories involves the successful rehabilitation of a rare and endangered African wild cat.
“A kitten was found by a member of the City of Cape Town’s biodiversity division, who reported it to us. The kitten had biliary and we thought it wouldn’t last the night. But it recovered and within three months we were able to release it back into the wild.”
Glasby explains that the aim is always to release animals into the wild where possible, but that exotic animals require sanctuary.
“We want to give the animals the best life possible. If we can heal it we will. Only in the most extreme cases will we put the animals down, and that is a decision that we put a lot of thought into,” he says.
SAFETY: SPCA Wildlife Unit manager Brett Glasby handles three of the 11 Rhombic Skaap Stekers confiscated in Gugulethu.