Leave the ducks a one

Students employed by the City, feed Mallard ducks, next to the TWagen bridge.

Dr Beverley Roos-Muller, Marina da Gama

Once upon a time when we moved into the Marina da Gama nearly 10 years ago, the waters had many ducks, which gave us great joy. They were attractive, friendly and interesting and gave great pleasure to children. Then came the killing of most the white ducks and considerable numbers of other ducks – in front of our eyes – by feeding them poison. When I protested in horror, sickened by the sight of their limp bodies in the water – all of them knew my voice and swam over when I called them – I was told the murdered ducks were not indigenous. Neither am I, I said. The guys nearly fell out of the boat laughing; who could blame them? it is absurdist theatre at a time when we are confronted by serious environmental and water issues.

On Monday, November 27 shortly after noon, I watched two employees of Zandvlei Reserve “feeding” brown ducks, and challenged them. Their answer was that they had been ordered to “habituate” the brown (non-yellow bills) by feeding them, before “relocating” them (these ducks don’t need to be habituated, they know and trust humans already). Once again, the crime of these three ducks, among a tiny handful left on our particular waterway in Park Island, is to be guilty of not conforming to the strict indigenous rule. When I asked was “relocate” meant, he said they did not yet know… perhaps they could find a place to send them. Maybe.

Yet when a yellowbill had seven duckling a few weeks ago, not a single one survived, in spite of us trying to chase off the predatory herons and hawks. We try to let nature take its course, but the marina is a human-made artificial waterway system, and all of us who live on it, and use the municipal picnic sites, influence it. The amount of garbage after a long weekend is breathtaking and surely far more of a danger to the healthy ecosystem of the Marina and Zandvlei than three brown ducks?

I protest. Those ducks are not intruders, they are welcome inhabitants of our permanent home, and innocent targets of a purge which gives us, the people who
actually live here, no say in what we prefer. Unlike pine trees, they do not use up large quantities of valuable resources (ie water). I cannot fathom how valuable resources are being employed in a dubious enterprise to remove our ducks in the hope that the yellowbills will find some better parenting skills and actually proliferate – they are not good parents. I also pointed out to the men that these particular ducks cause far less damage and annoyance than the Egyptian geese, which are plentiful and not loved by all (though we don’t mind them). They informed me that the Egyptian geese (which are in fact large ducks) are next on their list.

I have little doubt that I will be told that this is now “official policy” (made by whom? Anyone actually living here?), and that they are just doing their jobs. I remember those phrases; that’s how big and little crimes in our histories have always been justified. Let me be clear: leave our ducks alone, until you have better answers.

* Peter Kruger, Chair of Zandvlei Trust, responds: . These are the facts surrounding this very sensitive issue. This issue is being handled by the Invasive Species Unit of the City of Cape Town. The activity at the moment is to habituate the Mallards and to try and attract them to areas out of the residential area of Marina da Gama where they will be captured and removed to be euthanased.

The SPCA is involved in this part of it. Egyptian geese are not on the list of invasive species. The writer is correct when she says that the mallard numbers are declining – there is a very low survival rate of any ducklings due to predators in The Zandvlei Nature Reserve.

Councillor Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, City of Cape Town, said:

The City of Cape Town has to abide by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), which requires the control of all exotic mallard hybrids in the metro as part of a Save the Indigenous Waterfowl Programme (Please see the fact sheet on the programme at the bottom).

The Save the Indigenous Waterfowl Programme is informed by our animal welfare partner – the Cape of Good Hope SPCA – to ensure that all exotic waterfowl are treated ethically and humanely.

In terms of the national legislation, the City, as well as any land owner in South Africa, must carry out the removal of exotic mallard ducks on its property, irrespective of the conservation status or not.

The removal of exotic mallard ducks is therefore part of Council’s approved Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve integrated management plan and it is supported by the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve’s Protected Area’s Advisory Committee (PAAC) and the CAPE Invasives Animal Working Group (IAWG).

The removal of exotic mallard ducks is necessary to save the indigenous yellow-billed duck. The mallard duck hybridises with the indigenous yellow-billed duck and produces fertile young. Without this intervention, we will see the extinction of the yellow-billed duck.

Note: The photograph that has been provided by the resident is of staff at the Zandvlei Nature Reserve feeding ducks as a pre-removal exercise. The mallards are being fed at present and will over time be removed.

No ducks have been removed yet during this exercise.

It is critical for local residents not to keep exotic mallards without a permit or to release them.