Egrets, herons, cormorants cause a stir

Egrets, Herons and Cormorants – problem and solution

A hostile up-roar ensued when egrets, herons and cormorants chose to breed in alien pine trees growing on the pavement in a residential area of St Francis Bay. The Kouga Municipality, Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, health officials, and nature lovers were all drawn into the affair (and certainly did not flock together in opinion) and the conflict had the potential to become a legal issue with huge costs involved.

On the one hand, the municipality was called in to remove the trees and a potential health hazard, and at the same time nature lovers insisted that the birds be allowed to breed once nest building had started. Such an up-roar ensued that the municipality halted the felling process and the birds continued with the breeding cycle.

What is not generally known is that birds in numbers such as this excrete an enormous amount of ammonia-smelling excrement which covers all ground in the vicinity, roofs, walls, fences, plants etc. Noise from chicks soliciting for food continues throughout the day and night; dead chicks fall to the ground attracting flies, lice etc. and the accompanying odour is appalling. This becomes a health hazard as it did in this case.

Matters came to a head when the health of the person concerned developed a respiratory problem and medical help was necessary and intervention called for. The municipality was recalled and the trees were thus felled.

The owner of the affected house, once the trees were removed, incurred enormous expense trying to rectify the physical mess that had been left, as well as her health which has not yet recovered. Her home had to be fumigated twice; excrement (several centimetres thick in some places) removed from walls, roofs, fences, and the ground below. A pressure hose had to be hired. All the ammonia impregnated soil had to be removed completely and new soil brought in to the area below the trees.

All this could have been avoided had timeous action been taken before the actual breeding cycle had started. Unfortunately the breeding had started and some chicks were rescued and taken to the local vet. The birds suffered trauma when the trees were felled and flew round frantically looking for their nests and chicks.

To avoid a repetition of this unfortunate occurrence on municipal or private property timeous steps should be taken to discourage the birds from breeding in a place that would cause conflict with human habitation. They might be driven off by noise when they first show a preference for a tree that is too close or perhaps branches that could be used for nesting purposes could be trimmed or the chosen tree might even have to be felled before nesting takes place if there is no other solution.

The problem is not an easy one but a lot of heartache could be avoided by doing the right thing in time.

Wildlife photographer, Carolyn Greathead, witnessed the distressing scene when the birds returned to their nests and chicks to find them gone, and filmed them flying or sitting around in confusion.

Birds causing health problem in St Francis

Some of the concerned birds settled on nearby bushes

Birds causing health hazard in St Francis Bay

Birds not understanding

Article by Yvonne Bosman – Photographs by Carolyn Greathead

International Award winner Wentzel Coetzer from Kouga

Wentzel Coetzer has just returned from Brussels where he was presented with the International Thesis Award 2016 for a young researcher who submitted the best thesis. The award is aimed at supporting young scientists under the age of 35 whose research projects contribute to the sustainable use of wildlife.

Wentzel Erasmus

Photo: Maggie Langlands, Chairman of the St Francis Kromme Trust and Secretary of the Greater Kromme Stewardship initiative, congratulates Wentzel Coetzer on his International Award.

Coetzer explained: “This was awarded by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) which is a politically independent not-for-profit advisory body, aiming to preserve through the promotion of sustainable use of wildlife resources.”

The award was presented at the International CIC’s 63rd General Assembly Conference which took place over two-and-a-half days, with representatives from France, Germany, USA, Russia, Romania, Kenya, Uganda and other countries participating.

For the award, participants have to be students of Masters or Doctoral programmes. Dennis Slobodyan, Vice-President of CIC Young Opinion commented that the quality of this year’s submissions was outstanding and the judges felt that Coetzer’s work and that of the co-winner (a young lady from Romania) were above all the other submissions and addressed the three pillars of sustainable wildlife management, namely: economic, socio-cultural and ecological aspects.

The title of Coetzer’s doctoral thesis was: Causal determinants of public attitudes towards hunting as a basis for strategies to improve the social legitimacy of hunting which was quite a controversial topic!! He said: “My research focused on the underlying perceptions on which different attitudes towards hunting are based, with the ultimate aim of finding ways to improve the social acceptability of hunting.”

He explained that the public is often unaware of the fact that responsible, regulated and sustainable hunting makes a considerable contribution to wildlife management and conservation, and therefore it is important to keep hunting socially acceptable. He worked under the supervision Prof. Pieter van Niekerk at the Department of Agriculture and Game Management of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Coetzer said: “It was exciting at the conference as there were several hundred people and the proceedings had to be translated. As a winner I was required to give a ten-minute presentation of my thesis and answer questions and that went off well. It was quite nerve-racking going to Belgium and Brussels with all the heightened security after the airport attack. Well-armed police and military personnel very much in evidence and it took a long time to get in and out of the airport, especially in!”

Coetzer is currently working as the Biodiversity Stewardship Facilitator for the Greater Kromme Stewardship (GKS) initiative.  The GKS initiative was established by the St Francis Kromme Trust under the leadership of Maggie Langlands, along with a group of renewable energy developers.

This voluntary association of wind farm developers and operators, the St Francis Kromme Trust, and other conservation focussed parties is unique in the fast developing renewable energy sector in South Africa and serves as an excellent example of how environmental NGO’s and large industry can work together and also how competing entities in one sector can work together for greater positive impact in selected areas. The GKS initiative offers private landowners in the area the opportunity to play an important role in the conservation of our natural heritage. To date, Wentzel has made good progress in engaging with land owners and consulting with various environmental, farming and administrative bodies active in the Kouga – Tsitsikamma area.

Thank you Yvonne Bosman for a great article