Chris Pretorius from Makhanda-based owl rehabilitation farm, The Caring Owl, as well as interested residents from retirement village Settlers Rest, are seeking to restore the Gonubie Bird Sanctuary to its former glory and to lease the premises from the municipality in 2024.
Founded in 1955, the Gonubie Bird Sanctuary provides important nesting ground for many birds including the crowned crane.
However, due to municipal neglect of the sanctuary over the years, it has fallen into disuse and the number of birds nesting there has decreased.
Pretorius, who is respected locally for his rehabilitation work with owls, believes the space needs to be revitalised and used for the rehabilitation of owls and other birds, as well as for education awareness.
Pretorius, who has been involved in rehabilitating owls since 2007, said education and awareness campaigns on animal welfare was vital as superstitions and misbeliefs had proliferated in the wake of Covid-19.
Pretorius believes more owl nests are being raided because of the myth that consuming the birds’ eggs prevents contracting Covid, which had decreased the population of various owl species.
Misguided beliefs, compounded by the use of pesticides and insecticides for the prey that owls consume, has negatively impacted local owl numbers.
In the last few months, Rob Henderson, of Settlers Rest, and other interested people have raised R600,000 to begin repair work at the sanctuary, especially for fixing the fence.
However, given the sanctuary remains under the municipality’s control, this has been put on hold.
Ward councillor for Gonubie, Valerie Knoetzer, said her predecessors had tried to use funds from their ward-based budgets and private businesses and residents had tried to intervene to save the sanctuary, however, without consistent effort, it had become home to vagrants and overrun with bushes.
Knoetzer said it was intended to have the fence replaced two years ago through the ward-based budget, but a quote of R480,000 from a BCM supplier was not accepted.
After a new supplier was found, the cost escalated to R1.2m, which far exceeded the ward’s budget.
Knoetzer said the fence repair had been moved to the ward priority list and would only be attended to in the 24/25 budget due to funding.
She added: “I would love to see school children and bird lovers using the sanctuary for what it is. And to have it listed as a place to go on the tourism calendar. But this cannot happen till we start with the basics, like the fence.
“We thought that someone running a tea garden may be a good match for the bird sanctuary, with funds raised for the upkeep.
“The cutting of the pathways has fallen on residents as BCM does not have the funds to do this.
“The crowned cranes are becoming less, and the birdlife as well.” Knoetzer said.
Pretorius visits schools and communities across the province to teach people about owls and their welfare.
Pretorius’ passion for owls began after he found a previously domesticated owl, which was on the brink of starvation, on his farm.
However, due to Pretorius’ efforts, Uiltjie was successfully returned to the wild.
Over the years, Pretorius and his family have rehabilitated almost 100 owls, most of which had been partially domesticated by people or hit by cars.
Pretorius’ work involves feeding and providing medical care to the owls that arrive at his farm.
However, he stressed that more awareness work needed to be done to change the misbeliefs about owls, and how people interacted with them.