A Simon’s Town couple have been charged under the Animal Keeping By-Law after their two huskies allegedly killed 17 endangered African penguins on Seaforth Beach.
The owners face a charge of “failure to prevent any animal from attacking, worrying or frightening any other person or animal”, according to SPCA chief inspector Jaco Pieterse.
The dogs were impounded by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA and the City’s Law Enforcement animal control unit on Monday October 31.
The owners have 10 days, from the date of impoundment, to make representations to the City to get their dogs back, according to Law Enforcement spokesman Wayne Dyason. They would also have the option to appeal the outcome, he said.
Mr Pieterse said the Cape of Good Hope SPCA’s wildlife department had been alerted to the discovery of dead and dying penguins on Seaforth Beach by a jogger in the early hours of Friday October 28.
He said an eyewitness reported that “two husky-type dogs were seen at Seaforth Beach attacking various penguins”.
Seaforth Beach is a prominent nesting site for around 150 endangered African penguins and is on the border of Boulders Beach – the world-famous African penguin breeding colony.
There are numerous signs at the beach and in the parking lot that warn visitors that off-leash dogs are not allowed.
“The SPCA will ensure that justice is served for these penguins, who suffered a traumatic death because of irresponsible dog owners. We don’t believe that the dogs are to blame but will hold their irresponsible owners accountable,” said Mr Pieterse
However, according to Hanno Kloppers, a close friend of the dogs’ owners, who is speaking on their behalf, they did not walk their dogs “off leash” as reported by various media outlets.
Mr Kloppers said strong winds on the day of the incident forced the gate open and the dogs got out accidentally just before 6am. They were missing for about half an hour before they had returned home and there was no blood on them.
Mr Kloppers said in order for the dogs to have made it to the beach and back, they would have had to cross the main road in Simon’s Town during peak-hour traffic twice.
He said he could not understand how it was possible for two dogs to cross the main road twice, kill 17 penguins and return home with no blood on them all within about 30 minutes.
He said the couple’s daughter, who is writing matric, was “very upset” that the dogs had been taken away.
Mr Kloppers said he had been present when the dogs had been impounded and they had not been aggressive; instead they had been playful while being handled by the law enforcement officers.
A jogger, who was at the beach on the morning of the incident and who asked not to be named, said he had found one penguin lying on its stomach gasping for air and then another one, which was dead, across the lawn towards the Seaforth restaurant.
He went looking for the beach patrol officers and told them about the dead penguins. They then mentioned that they were chasing two dogs. They described a black and brown dog and a black and white dog and said they thought they were huskies.
He said more dead penguins were then found and he saw two dogs in the distance.
“We decided to hide from them so that they can come closer. When I saw them stopping in the middle of the road, I went closer…. I called them and they came toward me. I could then confirm that they were both huskies. They both had blood all over them,” he said.
He said he had seen clear fresh dog prints on the sand near one of the dead penguins and there was blood on the penguin.
Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) spokeswoman Ronnis Daniels said post-mortems had been done on the 15 adult penguins and two chicks, and clinical veterinarian Dr David Roberts had described severe bite marks and puncture wounds to the lower parts of the penguins’ bodies, while several penguins had suffered extensive wounds to the neck, abdomen, and groin areas.
It was concluded that the attack had happened on land as the two chicks would not yet have been seaworthy.
Dr Quixi Sonntag, a lecturer in the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria, said all dogs had hunting instincts but their behaviour was determined by their environment and what they had been bred to do. Huskies were bred to pull slays in the snow, but that did not mean that they would not hunt, she said.