Above: Tanya Heald with a peregrine falcon. Right, top to bottom: On Schaapen island; spotted eagle owl chicks; a puff adder being released.
Local Langebaan girl, Tanya Heald, has been making quite a name for herself over the last few years as a bit of a cross between Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Wyatt Earp… caring for and protecting the wildlife of the West Coast. The Heald Organisation for Wildlife, better known as HOW Wildlife Rescue, is a non-profit organisation and a public benefit organisation with a three-pronged strategy to conserve and, thereby, preserve the fauna and flora of this magnificent area.
By Lisa Bennet Photographs: HOW
HOW started out as a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center run by a woman on a mission from her house in Langebaan.
Tanya went from being snake phobic to being the person you call if you unexpectedly find one in your house. From charming snakes, she soon branched out to all hepetafauna, marine birds, raptors (birds of prey), smaller bird species, attending veld fires in order to rescue any injured wildlife (and sometimes people too!). More recently, she received a green vervel (not endemic to South Africa) who had been a pet and had absolutely no idea how to be a monkey. He also had to be tested for various diseases before being placed into a sanctuary situtation and some of the medication needed came from as far away as Spain. The monkey arrived afraid of heights and hyperactive. He left completely confident in his climbing ability with a clean bill of health, but still hyperactive because he was, after all, still a monkey.
fact that they have had contributions from Triggers and Bows in Laguna Mall, Neil Builders, BayJay Construction , Rustic Living, Langebaan Country Estate, Remax, Total Langebaan and Dave Allem of African Dream Joinery, who sponsored the labor to build the snake cages; there is a large deficit in the monthly expenditure and the amount of funds generated. Expenses that are not being covered by the organization are covered by the Heald family. Some of this includes fuel, maintenance of the vehicle and communications, both cellular and internet. As a result, Tanya has not been able to receive a salary in two years and certain projects have had to be placed on hold. Also, the organization desperately needs a website. Funding is important for the promotion and effectiveness of HOW’s diverse range of projects, which is why it is important that the organization becomes better known in the communities it serves and across the province.
Tanya is also grateful to the local municipalities and traffic departments for their support in her endeavors. They have even been known to provide an escort to rescue operations when congestion of traffic looked like it was going to be a problem. Tanya says time is often of the essence, particularly with snakes which can pose a threat to human safety, but more importantly the safety of the snake as humans pose the bigger threat.
When asked why she does what she does, Tanya replies: “Passion. I strongly believe you get prepared to fill specific roles in life, and if I look at all the experience I’ve accrued in different arenas and all my interests, it all culminates into this one calling.”
So, the Heald Organization for Wildlife is still basically a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre run by a woman on a mission from her house in Langebaan but, as you can see, there really is an awful lot more to it than that. The conservation and protection of our natural heritage is an admirable undertaking and definitely deserves the fervent support of the communities it serves.
Right, from the top: Tanya at ease; educating kids; a rescued seal pup; a green vervet monkey on the way to recovery; Tanya at work.
HOW is involved in the rescue and stabilization of marine birds, which are then released into the care of SANCCOB and raptors, which are placed into the care of Eagle Encounters. The next issue on the horizon to be tackled will be the rescue of seals as Marine and Coastal Management on the West Coast will no longer be involved with conservation and will be placing more focus on poaching and the fish production industry, leaving the washed-up seals with no-one to take care of them. HOW has been stepping in and filling this gap for quite some time now and Tanya is currently engaged in AWA (Animal Welfare Assistant) training which will prepare and license her to become fully involved in the rescue and protection of these animals.
While rescue and rehabilitation are at its core, Tanya maintains that the most important thing on HOW’s agenda is education. The youth are obviously at the center of this initiative and Tanya has presented educational programmes at many of the local schools, as well as at municipalities and local businesses like Amelia Protea Farm, where the workers encounter snakes on almost a daily basis.
Tanya believes that if people can be taught to handle, understand and, most importantly, respect animals, it will ultimately lead to a decrease in the need for rescue and rehabilitation. Much of the abuse of wildlife we see is caused by ignorance. People don’t understand the laws of nature or the laws of our country with regards to the treatment of wild animals.
This brings us neatly to the third prong of HOW’s strategy, namely, conservation . In collaboration with SANParks , Cape Nature, and local law enforcement , HOW is on a mission to investigate and stamp out environmental crimes on the West Coast. Illegal collection of wildlife, mainly reptiles and fynbos, for export is an issue I honestly didn’t know existed until I sat down with Tanya.
Illegal hunting is also a major problem, with people hunting individually or in groups with dogs and even shooting buck from their cars. HOW has been known to confiscate dogs which hunt on their own as the owners do not comply with local bylaws that state that your dogs need to be kept on your premises. In addition, dogs are known to have been bred and/or trained for hunting and HOW will continue to crack down on this barbaric practice which is robbing the West Coast of its wildlife.
The collaboration of various organizations came about as a result of the fact that people in the local communities are not aware that there is such a thing as an environmental crime and this is largely due to the fact that the organizations that are primarily responsible for creating that awareness are understaffed and lack resources.
In another interesting and fruitful collaboration, HOW has teamed up with the Cape Reptile Institute in researching the herpetafauna on the islands around Saldanha Bay and Langebaan and they have discovered some near-threatened and even a number of endangered reptilian species inhabiting the area.
This research will allow the organizations a better understanding of what impact we, as communities, are having on the wildlife of the mainland by offering a direct comparison between the isolated environs of the islands and the, often tourist-crowded, areas in which HOW currently operates.
HOW is also driving a nature conservancy creation project currently being undertaken by Cape Nature, on the West Coast. The main agenda of this initiative is the creation of wildlife corridors through a campaign to have as many areas of open land as possible designated as nature conservation areas. Each conservancy is managed by a committee and this serves to further the education programme as well.
As a non-profit organization, HOW has had to rely on the local community for a lot of its needs, both financial and physical.