South Africa purges “95%” of Table Mountain tahr
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2004:
CAPE TOWN–South Africa National Parks on June 9, 2004
suspended efforts to exterminate feral Himalyan tahrs on Table
Mountain, after 25 days of shooting.
SANParks claimed to have killed 109 tahrs, estimated to be
95% of the descendents of a pair who escaped from the long defunct
Groote Schnur Zoo in 1935.
Officially, the killing stopped due to the onset of winter
weather. But SANParks chief executive David Mabunda had come under
increasing public criticism for claiming to have no alternative to
killing the tahr.
In fact The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust had proposed in
March 2004 to pay for either sterilizing and relocating the tahrs to
the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve near Barrydale, operated by private
conservationist Adrian Gardiner, or returning them to their native
India if the logistics could be arranged.
The tahrs are an endangered species in India. The Indian
government has asked several times for the tahrs to be repatriated,
but has lacked funding for their capture and transportation. A
coalition called Friends of the Tahr pursued repatriation from 1999
until earlier this year, but disbanded, without remaining assets,
after unsuccessfully pursuing legal action on the tahrs’ behalf.
Mabunda was relatively new to the debate. Sporadic efforts
to kill the tahrs began in 1972, 20 years before black South
Africans had a voice in wildlife management.
“When SANParks was awarded the contract to manage the new
Cape Peninsula National Park,” in 1999, “the tahrs’ fate was
sealed,” commented Kalahari Raptor Centre co-director Chris Mercer.
“For they were exotic. Eco-purists could label them ‘alien’ and
thereby segregate them outside the boundaries of ethical or legal
concern. In the same way that it offends white racists to see black
people co-mingling with whites,” Mercer charged, “so it offends
proponents of eco-apartheid to see exotic species co-mingling with
African wildlife. Somehow to them it seems contrary to natural
SANParks is “reverting to their 1999 decisions, which [also] includes shooting the sambar and fallow deer on the Groote Schuur
Estate,” added former Friends of the Tahr coordinator Cicely
“It is clear from the minutes of the meeting in November
1999, when SANParks officials decided to kill the tahrs, that they
deliberately refrained from considering humane removal and relocation
because of the tahrs’ exotic status,” Mercer elaborated.
“SANParks officials did not kill the tahrs for the
[ecological] reasons stated in their prolonged propaganda campaign.
They killed them because they did not like them. Because they were
foreign. Because they did not belong here,” Mercer emphasized.
“The Marchig Trust’s generous offer to save the tahrs’ lives was
doomed from the start. Conservation officials did not want these
aliens moved within the fatherland. The fundamentalists wanted them
“Propaganda is the art of consigning citizens to hell in such
a way that they look forward to the trip,” Mercer continued. “It is
also a convenient substitute for proper scientific study. No expense
was spared in promoting the assumption that the tahrs were
devastating the mountain. Compliant journalists were flown up the
mountain by helicopter to be shown patches of erosion allegedly
caused by tahrs. This was the SANParks substitute for a proper
environmental impact assessment which would have revealed the truth.
“There is massive soil erosion all over Table Mountain,”
Mercer acknowledged, “caused by the impact of millions of human
hikers, climbers and recreationists who tramp around the mountain
every year. It was unscientific and meaningless to point to the odd
patch of bare earth, blame it on the defenseless animals and start
baying for blood and ethnic cleansing.
“Any pasture scientist could accurately have measured the
impact of tahrs on the ecology,” Mercer pointed out. “All rangeland
vegetation has evolved with grazing animals, and is stimulated by
light grazing. Of course overgrazing is damaging, but light grazing
is beneficial. Tahrs or similar herbivores are necessary to Table
Mountain to stimulate plant growth and lessen the accumulation of
dead plant material, which provides inflammable biomass.
“Blinded by their ignorance and prejudice, SANParks has been
incapable of appreciating that this alien species, far from damaging
the mountain, was protecting it.”
Pointed out Dr. Peter Schoonraad of Camps Bay, in a letter to
the Cape Argus newspaper, “The tahrs are ideally suited to Table
Mountain. They have never left it. They have never wandered off to
other regions or invaded gardens below. They pose no threat to
humans or other animals. They are not in competition with other
creatures, least of all klipspringers,” a hunted-out native
species, whose reintroduction to the mountain SANParks claimed
could not begin until the tahrs were gone.
“Small buck already cohabit with the tahrs. SANParks is
apparently ignorant of this fact,” Schoonraad wrote.
Squatters hit too
The tahr killing somewhat upstaged the forced removal of
squatters from shantytowns surrounding the Lanseria Airport in
Johannesburg that began the same day, and according to Community Led
Animal Welfare founder Cora Bailey was scarcely less brutal.
“Homes were demolished,” Bailey wrote, “and residents spent
the night in bitter cold. When we heard the radio reports, we sent a
team to investigate. Apart from the human misery we witnessed,
many pets were affected. Some had been run over. Others fled into
the veld. Dogs, cats, and chickens came back to where their homes
once stood, anxiously looking for their people. Our team spent the
weekend trying to reunite them.”
Friends of Roodepoort Animals sheltered the dogs, while the
cats and chickens were housed at the CLAW offices.