For the Love of Life

A wildlife rescue centre on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast gives its all in trying to save our wild animals from extinction

Time was when rhinos were abundant on our continent. Lions, cheetahs, gorillas too. Few people back then would have imagined that such seemingly invincible creatures would one day be brought to the brink of extinction. In respect of wild lions for instance, news from the timconwild conservation network at the time of writing this story confirmed that only 2 743 rhinos remain in South Africa. And so today, the spotlight is, rightly, on those and other iconic wild species in peril, and on the high-profile crusades to save them.

But let’s not overlook the others; smaller or lesser-known fauna are as integral to the complex matrix of biodiversity as are the greater species, and they are also in need of champions. Thankfully, tucked away in corners of South Africa, are unassuming groups of people devoted to these humble creatures. One such champion is Crag’s View Wild Care Centre in Port Edward, the only accredited wildlife rescue centre on the lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

“It started in 1999 when a neighbour brought me a tiny blue duiker that had been caught in a snare,” says centre manager, Ina de Koker. Ina and fellow founder of Crag’s View, Craig Hoskens, had always shared a deep concern for wild animals but, with the arrival of that little antelope, suddenly found themselves playing a more central role, Ina’s experience in caring for wild animals holding them in good stead. “Most of what I know I learnt from Lynne Milton who ran Owl (Orphans of Wildlife) in Paddock, KwaZulu-Natal,” Ina said. In addition, she has completed several courses in wildlife rehabilitation, as required by conservation authorities.

Registered in 2002 as an NPO and NGO affiliated to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Crag’s View is located on Craig’s farm overlooking Umtamvuna Nature Reserve on the border of KZN and the Wild Coast. “We named the centre after the view from the top of the cliff,” said Craig who, like Ina, continues to work tirelessly and for no personal gain to protect the region’s wildlife. The hundreds of wire snares displayed on the veranda of his house, which Craig has removed from forests and farmlands in the area, often along with the dead or injured victims of those deadly loops, attest to his commitment.

“Snares and dog hunting are decimating wildlife,” says Ina. Blue duiker, the smallest antelope in South Africa, is heavily hunted, she says, because it can be so easily hidden in a bag. Other important factors are the muti trade and, with increasing urbanisation, attacks by pet dogs in built-up areas where fences become snares for animals trying to escape threats. Ina tells of the blue duiker that sustained severe spinal injuries after being caught in a weld mesh fence while fleeing dogs, and of another that, bitten on her neck, couldn’t lift her head to feed.

And so, from far and wide, a never-ending parade of needy creatures arrives at Crag’s View where Ina and her small team – an assistant, a cleaner and volunteers – nurse back to health those that can be helped, ultimately releasing them in suitable, safe areas. “We’ve rehabilitated bushpigs, tortoises, dassies, antelopes, mongooses, genets, porcupines, clawless otters, orphaned black-backed jackal pups, and hosts of birds from the smallest seed eaters to raptors like a Peregrine Falcon that flew into a fence, and an African Crowned Eagle confiscated from the muti trade,” recounts Ina. Schools, conservancies and environmental groups can arrange to visit the centre but Ina emphasises that it’s not a zoo. “Our goal is to free the animals.”

In the case of birds that can never be truly free, they’re sent to the Birds of Prey Centre near Pietermaritzburg, where they receive lifelong sheltered care. Then there are the tragic cases of animals that just cannot be saved. “Quality of life matters,” Ina says. “Sometimes we have to consider euthanasia.”

Crag's View 8
An orphaned juvenile Burchell’s Coucal investigates Ina de Koker’s finger.

Aside from her rehabilitation work, Ina dedicates much time to educating children about the wild. “I place the emphasis on life,” she says. In her educational kit is a video of a blue duiker’s struggle for survival. “We named him Miracle,” Ina tells me. “One young girl from a community, which looks on duiker and other mammals as meat, experienced a change of heart when she saw the footage. She decided then and there to become a vet.”

The emotional toll of constantly dealing with suffering animals must be immense.Ina admits it isn’t easy. “It’s devastating when, after trying to save an animal, we fail,” she says. When Ina says ‘trying to save’ she’s referring to dedication such as sleeping for two weeks with a critically ill, newborn grey duiker whose mother was killed in a veld fire. “He came in as a starvation case as he’d had no mother’s milk,” says Ina. Eleven months later, Smokey went home – a healthy, strong, wild antelope released into Umtamvuna Nature Reserve.

Despite the many challenges Crag’s View faces daily (e.g. finding funds; receiving no meaningful support from environmental authorities that depend on the centre) Ina, who earns her living bookkeeping from home, will never stop what she’s doing. “There’s no other life for me. My childhood ambition was to be a vet but circumstances didn’t allow for that. I’d also always dreamed of having my own rescue centre. Today I’m living that dream.”

Seeing the close bond Ina has with her ‘patients’ and her instinctive way of interacting with them, I realise it’s not only about a childhood dream, but about a keen understanding of our natural world and how vital it is that we look after it.

Ina puts it best. “Imagine a ghostly, dead, empty forest versus a vibrant, diverse forest alive with birdsong and the rustle of antelope feeding. Without the work of this centre and similar establishments we might be facing that empty forest all too soon.”

Contact: 071 545 5054 www.cragsview.co.za

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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