Thabo Mothibi, Managing Editor, email@example.com
Askham – Renowned Northern Cape based and now retired ethologist Professor Anne Rasa has extended a heartfelt plea to the public to desist from keeping meerkats as pets. The 79-year-old Professor Rasa who is famed for her research on the Dwarf Mongoose of Kenya’s Taru Desert, told NCNN.live that she is saddened by the current trend in domesticating meerkats that are supposed to be out in the wild.
The well-travelled academic was born Olwen Anne Elisabeth Rasa in 1940 in the United Kingdom and retired in 2000 to a southern-tip Kalahari Desert homestead, a farm she transformed into a tourist attraction called the Kalahari Trails & Meerkat Sanctuary perched near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
“My big worry of the meerkats is this business of them being used as pets. It is a big business. There are breeders, especially in the Gauteng area that breed them as pets, but here what happens is that the locals dig the babies (pups) out of the burrows. As long as they get one to sell, they quite happy and the fact that the rest of the litter suffocates or dies does not bother them,” she bemoaned.
In making reference to her immediate environs graced by red dunes which are a perfect natural habitat of meerkats, she pointed out that efforts undertaken through police involvement were successful.
“When I first came here, when you drove out, there would be kids standing on the side of the road waving, pointing to ground and tied to a stick would be a little baby meerkat. They would flag you down and say R1000. Occasionally, kids do bring them in, especially to the Molopo (nearby Molopo Kalahari Lodge), but then the Molopo immediately calls me to say Prof we have a baby meerkat here.”
She stated that even though “the situation is pretty much under control” around her settings, the selling of meerkats is still rife in towns such as Van Zylsrus, the Karoo and other areas around the country.
In an attempt to shift the palpable emotion, the soon to be octogenarian beamed when asked what it is about the sanctuary that has brought her joy thus far: “It brings me a lot of joy, especially when females that I have raised as babies come back out of the veld with their own little babies to show off. They have this very special way of coming out head up and tail up with the babies underneath them.
“I post this on my Facebook page, we got over 3500 people that are checking on that. The message is getting out there but the number of people that still come here and say ‘can we buy one of these,’ then I say no these are ones rescued from people like you,” exclaimed Professor Rasa in an animated Kalahari like storytelling demeanour.
In being a fierce proponent of the welfare of meerkats, she would probe: “What are you going to do with it, put it in your apartment, when it starts tearing things apart what you going to do? Then you give it to someone like me and I will have a totally messed up meerkat that I have to try and straighten out psychologically and physically and get back into the wild again. What is the point of it, I cannot see it,” she emphasised perceptively, ending the conversation by thanking her staff and many a benevolent donor to the sanctuary.
Solidearth Meerkat Rehab and Rescue is also within the boundaries of the Kalahari Desert town of Askham and their tasks is much intense, evidenced by running costs of over R45 000 per month which are also covered by wildlife patrons.
“We sometimes have 60 meerkats all at once in our enclosures. We do releases where we form groups and then do soft releases back into the wild, monitoring them for still up to a year. We also actively fight the illegal trade,” said the spokesperson for this non-governmental organisation Alma-Celeste Stafford.
Abidingly, the Northern Cape Provincial Government does not permit the keeping of meerkats as domestic cats.
“Even though we have been receiving applications for permits, we have been rejecting those applications. There are however, low incidences of domesticated meerkats which are picked up during routine inspections.
“Awareness creation is done especially in those cases where permit applications for keeping of meerkats are received. In cases of domesticated meerkats being discovered such animals are confiscated and taken to registered animal rehabilitation centres,” explained Zandisile Luphahla, a spokesperson of the province’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, Rural Development, Environment and Nature Conservation.
Even though the meerkats conservation status is listed as, “least concern,” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on its red list of Threatened Species, there is widespread accord among stakeholders on the Northern Cape’s endemic droughts having impacted negatively on the population of this southern Africa species. That meeting of minds is of which NCNN.live heard from Professor Rasa whilst seated on her stoep and concurred on by other stakeholders interviewed.
*NCNN.live was covering stories along the Kalahari Red Dune Route courtesy of the Northern Cape Tourism Authority (NCTA).
By Thabo Mothibi
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Thabo Mothibi is a former broadcast journalist (TV and Radio) – with specialist reporting experience; SABC Political/Parliamentary and TRC Teams over a period of five years (1995 to 2000).
One key foreign assignment - is the 11-nation African Connection Rally – overland journey from Africa’s northern-most pole in the coastal Tunisian city of Bizerte to the southern-most pole in South Africa’s Cape Agulhas. From the journalistic years, Thabo then delved into Government media liaison and serving two former Ministers and three MECs. He became the Northern Cape Provincial Government’s first department based Communications Director at Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development - 2008-2010 – where he also served as Head of Ministry from 2003 – 2008.
As a former anti-apartheid activist, his political background and professional training aided him in spearheading the Northern Cape ANC’s 2004 National Elections media and publicity campaign and that of the 2006 Local Government Elections.
Whilst based in Waterkloof in Pretoria -2010 to end 2011, he consulted for Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence, then returned to the Northern Cape in 2012 to date, to consult independently and pursue other entrepreneurial interests in media and communications through KwaVuko Communications and Marketing.
Thabo Mothibi obtained his NQF7 through Wits University’s Graduate School of Public and Development Management (P&DM) in Johannesburg, a Unilever Mandela Rhodes Academy for Marketing and Communications Academy (UMRA). The goal of the NQF7 programme was to educate and train public and private sector professional communicators and marketers in government communications..