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Wildlife & Environment

In accordance with the ZAPO mandate to 'enhance the common area' and 'to communicate with members', the Board has built and maintains close contact with groups and the City's implementing agents in the areas of wildlife and environmental management specific to Zwaanswyk. In this regard, interested members are encouraged to consult the websites of the following groups for current information on baboons, western leopard toads (ZAPO's logo), and the City's efforts to identify and eradicate alien invasive species (many of which are prevalent in Zwaanswyk).

The Zwaanswyk baboon fence and its efficacy

The Zwaanswyk SRA baboon and security fence, designed and managed by ZAPO, is acknowledged by the authorities' Baboon Technical Team (BTT), animal welfare groups (SPCA and PAWS), and UCT's Baboon Research Unit (BRU) as being the prototype for effective human/baboon conflict management on the Cape Peninsula.

The BTT and BRU are using the precedent of the Zwaanswyk baboon fence in presentations to other baboon affected communities and cite "The Zwaanswyk Success Story" as the best baboon management tool available for the following reasons (courtesy of Prof Justin O’Riain of the BRU):

  • Does not disturb wildlife, domestic animals nor residents
  • Improved baboon conservation and welfare status
  • Significantly reduces damage to property and trauma to residents and domestic animals
  • Improved security and probably property prices
  • Negates need to baboon-proof individual properties/gardens/houses
  • Significantly improves the lifestyles of residents, and
  • Reduces the significant long term management cost per baboon

The satellite pictures below (courtesy Bentley Kaplan's PhD Thesis) graphically illustrate the distribution of the 100 plus baboons in the Tokai Main and Zwaanswyk troops before and after the erection of the Zwaanswyk fence in 2012.

It can be clearly seen that, mainly the Zwaanswyk troop (regular abetted by the Tokai Main troop), was totally habituated to obtaining human derived food from rich pickings in the Zwaanswyk residents' properties. Normal life in Zwaanswyk was almost unbearable, residents lived like prisoners in their own homes and domestic animals were also traumatised and regularly severely injured in conflict with baboons. It can be seen that other residential areas such as Forest Glade, Lower Tokai, Firgrove and even the Steenberg Golf Estate were regularly raided by baboons.

By early 2012, the team of 8 'monitors' employed by the City's then baboon management agency (NCC) was fighting a losing battle in their efforts to manage baboon incursions into Zwaanswyk from the pine plantations and invasive alien infested areas of the abutting Tokai TMNP plantations and Porter Estate. The baboon population was increasing exponentially as a result of the extra nutrition provided by human derived foods and was almost totally habituated to the urban area.

Immediately after the erection of the fence, baboon troop incursions into Zwaanswyk ceased completely. Individual raiders exploited weak points in the fence perimeter which were rapidly mitigated by the constant vigilance and effective management of the ZAPO Board, and occasional raids by single baboons have become the exception rather than the rule.

The barrier of the fence permitted the new HWS baboon rangers to concentrate on keeping both the baboon troops (and individual raiding males) from raiding into other residential areas such as Forest Glade and Lower Tokai and Firgrove, which has resulted in this area now being virtually free of residential baboon raids. There are also early indications that the baboon population growth is normalising as the baboons are deprived of human derived foods and are forced into foraging for natural foods.

The devastating March 2015 fires virtually destroyed all the baboons' traditional foraging habitat and sleeping sites in the Tokai plantations. Without vigilant management of the Zwaanswyk fence, including an extension on the southern Steenberg vineyards boundary and rapid repairs to the fire damage, there is no doubt that the baboon management challenge would have been significantly exacerbated. Instead, the effective barrier of the well managed Zwaanswyk fence has contributed significantly to both baboon troops foraging high into the Silvermine area and even roosting there.

This summer, despite the drought and fires, the baboons have adapted to the fynbos foraging on the Constantiaberg and Silvermine and are experiencing much more natural lifestyles not being harassed by, or harassing, humans.

We have to conclude that the Zwaanswyk SRA has undoubtedly been a great success, both to the residents of Zwaanswyk and the surrounding areas and to the baboons. It has also materially contributed to the image and financial sustainability of the City in the field of 'problem animal' conflict.

Western Leopard Toads

Zwaanswyk, 'Zwaneweide in den Steenbergen' (loosely translated as Swan Marsh or Pasture), is situated between the marshlands and pastures of the original 1682 Steenberg Farm (now the ponds of the Steenberg Golf Estate) and the wetlands of the Tokai portion of the Table Mountain National Park. As such, Zwaanswyk is in the epi-centre of the habitat of the endangered Western Leopard Toad which is endemic (restricted) to the lowlands of the Cape Peninsula and Agulhas Plain. It is therefore logical that the Leopard Toad has been selected as the logo of the Zwaanswyk Association of Property Owners (ZAPO) who have a vested interest in 'enhancing the common area' by encouraging its members to protect it.

The toad is particularly threatened throughout its range by general development and habitat degradation and is therefore protected by Western Cape Nature Provincial ordinance: it is illegal to collect or translocate it.

Specific Urban Threats (all of which are applicable to Zwaanswyk) include:

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation which restricts the foraging area of the toads and leads to their isolation, loss of population and breeding sites
  • Barriers such as walls and storm water drains (including the major one down one side of Zwaanswyk) restrict movement and often force the toads to use driveways and thus increase the likelihood of being 'splattered'
  • Road traffic results in the death of hundreds and probably thousands of toads each year. (It is estimated that approximately 5% of the toads crossing upper Tokai and Zwaanswyk in 2015 became road-kill despite the dedicated efforts of the toad watch volunteers, concerned members of the community and our security provider)
  • Drowning in water bodies with vertical sides, such as swimming pools: a simple piece of shade cloth hanging over the edge into the water will give the toads an escape route
  • Toads are very vulnerable to garden pesticides and weed-killers

Toads spend most of their time away from water, often in suburban gardens and Tokai Park, but are seldom more than a couple of kilometres from their breeding habitat: mainly permanent water bodies (eg ponds on Steenberg Estate and other Tokai wetlands). They are most active during the breeding season from late July, especially August and early September, when large numbers of adults congregate in water bodies to breed.

The males' call (snoring: hear the call on the website and report it to the Toad Watch Team Leader: Hanniki Pieterse at 084 264 6633) attracts the females and the resulting toadlets (11mm long) leave the water in October - December when they are very vulnerable. Toads devour insects and are most useful pest controllers.

Toad movements are 'explosive' and 'unpredictable'. It was previously thought that they moved only on rainy nights: recent evidence has proved otherwise. They are unlikely to move if the temperature is below 12 degrees C and in 2015 the movement was between 22nd and 28th August when some 400 adult toads (mostly young males crossing lower Zwaanswyk, at the intersection of Zwaanswyk and upper Tokai, and between Forest Glade and Steenberg) were moved off the road to safety in our area alone. In 2013/4 the movement was in early September.


Invasive Species in Zwaanswyk

Over the past two years, ZAPO management has worked closely with the City's Alien Invasive Species 'Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR)' Unit and the manager, Louise Stafford, was the keynote speaker at ZAPO's December 2015 AGM. Since then the EDRR has surveyed Zwaanswyk and is working on a management plan to clear City owned land (road verges) of listed invasive species. It has also offered and has assisted residents in eradicating listed species from their properties. A list of the target invasive species can be found on their very user friendly website:

The main invasives identified in Zwaanswyk are:

  • Devil's Beard:

    This perennial has stems 30-80cm tall with blue-green oval to lance-shaped leaves. The stems are often woody at the base. Flowers are usually deep pink to magenta, but sometimes white. Native to Mediterranean Europe.

  • Spanish Broom:

    This is an unarmed, multi-stemmed shrub, native to Europe and growing to 1,5m-2,5m in height, with upright long and slender cylindrical green branches. The leaves are simple, undivided, silky beneath and blue-green in colour. Fragrant yellow flowers 25mm long and in racemes 300-400mm long are produced from August to November. Seeds consist of flattened brown pods up to 75mm long, initially covered with silky white hairs.

  • Madeira Vine:

    Madeira vine is a creeper from South America with wide, fleshy, waxy heart-shaped leaves, bright green in colour. It produces fragrant creamy spikes, about 10cm long with numerous individual small flowers resembling a lamb’s tail. Flowering period: Feb-May. This creeper produces tubers (5mm-25cm) light-brown or green potato-like tubers along the stem, which fall to the ground and sprout. If not controlled properly, this species can cause substantial ecological damage by smothering indigenous vegetation.

  • Yellow Flag Iris:

    Yellow flag iris forms dense growth along riverbanks and the fringes of ponds, competing with indigenous species and altering water flow. It is a perennial moisture-loving plant with yellow flowers and long, strap-like leaves. It reaches a height of 100-150cm.

Please report any of these species identified in Zwaanswyk to the Invasive Species Unit Telephone 021 444 2356/7 or on their website.

After the devastating fires of March 2015, residents of Zwaanswyk are also highly aware of the increased fire hazard posed by alien tree species such as pines, gums, palms and wattles and the need to manage this hazard accordingly.

ZAPO management is also in regular contact with the appropriate authorities regarding the management of dangerous trees on the verges.

Verge Management

Residents are encouraged to keep their verges maintained and to report alien invasive plants, storm water damage, street lighting problems and dangerous trees to the relevant authorities.

Any serious issues, please contact ZAPO manager The City of Cape Town's hotline is 021 701 1233.

From time to time, the board organises a street clean up, like the pruning of the Tecomas at the end of winter last year. Residents' help and contributions are warmly welcomed.