Prompted by the release of the festive season road death toll figures, Glyn Demmer took time to reflect on the sad loss of life – and not only in human terms.
Few of us think of how many animals are killed when traffic spreads across the country during the annual December coastal lemming run.
In many cases the “devil may care” attitude that results in a motor vehicle accident causes the death or injury of animals as well as humans. Animal carcasses are often strewn along the side of the road or splattered on the tarmac like some weird art form.
My recent personal experience (one of many) happened when I was travelling back from the Western Cape, just outside of Colesberg. I saw a tortoise crossing the road. As he was plodding along, I slowed down to about 100 km/h. This antagonised the driver of a fast sedan behind me. He passed on a solid white line, and made no attempt to take evasive action when/if he saw the tortoise, which he ran over.
I stopped to see if I could help or at least save the injured creature from a horrible death, and was amazed to see him scrabbling on. He had lost the use of his back legs but was still pulling himself forward. When the car hit the tortoise, the impact knocked off most of the top section of the shell, and stunned it.
Out came the first aid kit, as there was some bleeding on the inside of the shell where it was attached to the body. This was treated with a homeopathic wound powder. I then wrapped cling wrap around the empty cavity and sealed it with a few duct tape GT stripes. The tortoise was ready to go.
Oh, and in the process he had obviously dehydrated by urinating, so we put him in a cardboard box with a small container full of fresh tomato pulp which he took to with gusto.
I then phoned a Gauteng-based rescue centre but, alas, we would not get to Johannesburg in time, so the tortoise had to live in the diningroom for the night. When we got home he was relatively mobile, having regained the use of his back legs.
Early next morning we shot him off to Free Me, where he was quickly attended to. He acquired a fibreglass shell which would fall off at a later stage, being replaced by a larger one as he grew. When we left he was socialising with other tortoises and already eating.
Recently, as part of the Nissan 4×4 Club, we raised funds at an event and donated it to Free Me. The guys thought it appropriate, given that many of the animals in their care have been injured by cars or had wandered into residential areas and been seen to be a problem.
Free Me have accepted every animal I have taken in, and pulled them through. They have an impressive success rate. They operate with the approval of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and do amazing work. On average they handle 10 000 cases annually, yet reached that figure by October last year.
There are many animals in residence and yes, they do catch and release snakes. Currently they have a rinkhals and a snouted cobra which are uninjured but had been removed from residential areas.
Garden birds, owls, eagles and bats are regular patients. Owls often fall victim to cars or rat poison, and they are treated and released when ready – all under strict supervision.
Then there are the animals that fall prey to little Johnny’s pellet gun (a nice Christmas gift with the potential to wreak havoc without supervision).
They also get the odd mongoose, genets, vervet monkeys and meerkats, which are sometimes given to children as “cute pets”, only to be abandoned when they start to mature and become a handful.
In the high care section they had an injured pale chanting goshawk and a brown snake eagle.
Whatever the ailment or injury, these folks do an astounding job. The most amazing story they told me concerned a black shouldered kite that had been hit by a car and got stuck in the grille. When the owner returned to Johannesburg he had the grille removed at a dealership and the kite was taken to Free Me… dazed, bemused but uninjured.
So the point I am making is simple: be alert when you drive and aware of your surroundings. Look out for the animals on the side of the road and try to avoid them. Large or small, they were there before you and have a right to be there long after you have hit the beach.
If you would like to know more about the Free Me organisation or to assist in any way, be it financially, with building material or even animal food, they can be contacted at 011-807-6993, 083-558-5658, www.freeme.org.za or [email protected]