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Reserves line up for Island animals - 4 September 2008

Animal welfare organisations, farm, guest lodge and animal sanctuary owners from many parts of the Western and Eastern Cape are coming forward to offer accommodation to Robben Island's animals in the hope they can prevent them from being killed.

There are about 200 fallow deer on the island and about 10 000 European rabbits, which have stripped all the vegetation. The animals are being fed by Searl Derman, owner of Aquila Private Game Reserve, until they are strong enough to be captured and moved.

Douglas Taylor, owner of Antler's Lodge at The Crags, near Plettenberg Bay, who has 30 fallow deer on his farm and a permit to keep them, said he would like 30 more from the island because they eat all the alien vegetation on his property and leave the indigenous plants alone.

"All my neighbours have wattle growing all over their properties but mine has none," he said. "The deer also eat blackwood and other alien plants."

He said they were an attraction at his lodge, which was named after their antlers.

Percy Hickman from the African Dawn bird and wildlife sanctuary near Jeffreys Bay, says he would like 30 deer and some rabbits. He has a permit from the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism to keep wild animals and birds in captivity for public display on his 1 000ha property.

"We have a volunteer programme where people of all ages come from around the world to work with the wildlife we rehabilitate," he said.

"We also run educational programmes and have many school groups coming here and we would be able to teach them about the island while showing them the deer."

Mossel Bay's Karen and Jurg Olsen of Jukani, which is registered as a zoo, also want deer.

"We believe we have a responsibility to the animals on Robben Island as it is humans who introduced them there. We cannot just stand by and let innocent animals starve to death, or be killed by inconsiderate governmental organisations," said Karen.

Cape Town's Domestic Animal Rescue Group (Darg), wants six fallow deer, 30 rabbits and some tortoises to join the five cats it rescued from the island earlier, to become a focal point of the Noah's Ark educational programme it is setting up for children.

Darg's manager, Sonia Cope, said: "We want to educate children about the historical events that the Robben Island animals represent (the rabbits were introduced as food in 1656 and the deer and various species of antelope when it was a prison).

"We want to create a large island of our own, surrounded by a moat and linked to a dam on our property, for the rabbits. We would sterilise them and fence it so they coud not possibly escape or do any environmental damage.

"We are very concerned about the message that goes out to children when 'unwanted' animals are killed off, like the tahrs on Table Mountain. We should not be teaching our children that killing is a solution to anything."

Offers of help are also coming in on a Facebook address that has been set up called

CapeNature, the body that issues permits for the transportation and keeping of wildlife in the Western Cape, is on record as saying it will allow fallow deer off the island to its approved permit holders - some of which are hunting establishments - but that it does not want the rabbits, which are classed as a pest internationally, to be brought to the mainland, which means they will probably be culled.

[ By Eve Vosloo :: IOL ]