SPCA hones in on il­le­gal ex­otic an­i­mals

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - KOWTHAR SOLOMONS kowthar.solomons@inl.co.za

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.

PIC­TURE: TRACEY ADAMS

SAFETY: SPCA Wildlife Unit man­ager Brett Glasby han­dles three of the 11 Rhom­bic Skaap Stek­ers con­fis­cated in Gugulethu.

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