On the outskirts of Howick, Kwazulu-Natal a woman named Roz provides a safe haven for wild animals and birds.
Not far down the road from the much visited Howick Falls you drive past a sun drenched retirement community. At the fork, instead of staying left, you turn right and follow the narrow road to a large fenced in area. There behind indigenous flora and fauna are several runs and large cages tucked away for peace and quiet, along with a building that houses the surgery (clinic), kitchen, storage and office.
On this particular day several young Eland, one about ready to be released back to the reserve where it had been found injured, call the first enclosure we visit home. On stepping inside I neglect to latch the gate well enough, and before we know it we have an escapee. Instead of panicking Roz opens the gate wider allowing the others to follow and enjoy a few minutes romping and chasing a Hadeda (Ibis) which takes off squawking “Ha de da” much to the young Eland’s delight.
Did you know that one of these Eland calves consume 8 liters (about 2 gallons) of milk per day! As you can imagine a rescue center like this goes through an inordinate amount of food in a month.
Roz, the director of the center, tells us that while Eland can easily be reintroduced to the wild the smaller Reed Buck (pictured below) cannot. The former is a herd animal, so they learn from each other. If the herd runs from danger, the newly introduced animal follows and learns. The Reed Buck on the other hand is a solitary antelope, so how do you go about teaching them the ropes of the wilds? Sadly, this little Reed buck will be sent to a sanctuary or breeding program.
We further learn that certain behaviors are innate in some species. The Serval (a small wild cat also pictured below) like most cats is a born predator. Even when raised by humans most wild cats, possessing all their faculties, will hunt for food. Nonetheless, Roz and her staff must do a good job as the two young Servals in their care hissed as we neared their enclosure.
Five nervous jackals, a large tortoise and numerous species of birds also find refuge for a season at the center.
What really gives us a good chuckle is a young Bustard (photo above) who has to be taken for his daily walk. Bustards are beautiful very large ground birds that apparently are bred to be hunted by falcons (not good) and not many remain in the wilds. This little one came to them injured and is now recovered and being taught to run. In the wilds the mother is constantly on the move and the baby develops really strong legs. However, at a rescue center rehabbers must improvise.
While in the bird area Roz calls over two volunteers and without much encouragement the young Busted takes off behind them like an obedient puppy… They do two laps around the building. If you’ve ever watched an Ostrich run, it looks much like that only in miniature… really cute. What’s the future of this particular bird? A sanctuary as he is imprinted and will evermore be far too comfortable with humans for his own good.
Did you know that some species of cranes are fed with puppets and staff dressed in bird costumes to avoid imprinting? Yes, those involved in protecting and helping wildlife will go to huge lengths to get the job done.
FreeMeKZN takes in wild animals and birds of all kinds. Since our last visit in late 2010 where and how the animals come to them has changed. They used to be called out to save animals from poachers’ snares or from off the roadside after being hit by a vehicle. These types of call outs have greatly reduced and most come now from reserves and game parks suggesting fewer wildlife left in the wild. This was sad news for us, but not unexpected.
Before we left we grabbed as many liters of whole box milk the local grocery store had on the shelf and three hug bags of wild birdseed from the feed store as a donation from Nikela.
Our thanks to Roz, her staff and volunteers for their continuous dedication and commitment to the injured and orphaned wildlife in need of help. They are ‘starfish throwers’ and do make a difference.