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Monday Oct 22, 2012

Fourways property owners in conflict with dassies

A professional hunter has shot dead 102 dassies plaguing Fourways residents, marking the start of a controversial municipal culling programme that has split communities under siege by the rodents to the north and south of the city.

So far 102 dassies have been shot in the Fourways area.

Nthatisi Modingoane, spokesman for the City of Johannesburg, revealed this week that it embarked on a pilot culling project in the Fourways area last month where "immediate population reduction was unavoidable".

"Currently there are no specific numbers to target," he said. "You reduce the population and monitor the impact of this reduction over a period of time. If the problem persists, then the populations are further reduced. This should continue until a balance is achieved."

Earlier this year the council obtained a permit from provincial conservation authorities to cull the small mammals to drastically reduce their numbers in Norscot, Lonehill, Fourways and the Klipriviersberg nature reserves - the source of the dassies in conflict with residents. In surrounding suburbs, the hungry animals have shacked up in suburban roofs, raided suburban gardens and clogged stormwater drains.

He said the council was working with the National Council of SPCAs and the Endangered Wildlife Trust to find other possible solutions such as fencing and relocation, "however, culling remains the only practical short-term solution".

The carcasses had been donated to a crocodile breeder and raptor rehabilitation centre, said Shane Spencer, the chairman of the Bushveld Conservation Bureau, a hunting outfit that deals with problem animal control.

The Johannesburg Zoo had decided against them because of concern over lead poisoning from the bullets.

"The most humane way of dealing with excess dassies is culling targeting specific animals," explained Spencer, who conducted the September cull. "We shoot from the smallest to largest... bearing in mind we want to shoot through different sizes to maintain the stability of the colony.

"We're not here to make an animal suffer but to make sure the animal is culled in an ethical, instantaneous manner. When I shoot a dassie [in the head], it doesn't move, it just falls to the side. Our aim is not to kill dassies all day long but to get the area, the natural vegetation, re-established to what it can be in an urban area. Birds aren't nesting because wherever they put their nests dassies are eating them."

Spencer said communities were "shouting blue murder" in suburbs such as Fourways, Glenvista and Lynwood Ridge in Pretoria.

"People are completely and utterly frustrated. I know of people who've had to redo the ceilings of their houses after dassies started to live in their roofs and of people who have installed electric fences to keep dassies out of their gardens."

One cull was not enough, Spencer said. "We've not made an impact on the population and that's guaranteed. There will probably only be one cull and then we'll be finished for this year."

The council said the dassie populations were still way above the carrying capacity of affected municipal nature reserves.

Mary Borkett, a committee member of the Norscot Koppies and Kingfisher Nature Reserve, said it should only have 300 dassies but has 1 500 on its 17ha property. It had been waiting for two years for City Parks to intervene.

"We're long past the stage of a problem. This has been going on for the past two years. It comes to a point in mid-November when the dassies start dropping babies and you don't cull in that time. You don't know how many of the young you are leaving unfed.

"Our residences are in a ring of complexes that back on to the reserve. People who don't have killer dogs or whose fences are not dassie-proof, their gardens are like a fivestar restaurant for dassies. They're a bit like sharks really - they're very adaptable and evolve.

"They're very cute. I don't mind them as long as they're on the other side of the fence. But they are vermin when they defecate in the roof and cause hardship. When they die, they stink ... they smell like dead rats."

Saturday Star

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