E Cape farmers desperate to stop sheep massacres

Farmers in the Eastern Cape towns of Indwe and Dordrecht have sustained huge losses of their Merino sheep as they are attacked, killed and mauled by stray dogs. Tim and Sharon Salmon investigate.

Julian Cloete who farms on  Jonashoek, 10km outside of Indwe, lost four of his prime Merino sheep on Monday 5 June. Cloete’s vigilant staff alerted him to the panicky behaviour of sheep in a camp near the R56. Two large dogs were seen attacking the sheep. He shot the one dog and with the help of his neighbours eliminated the second dog that escaped from the killing zone.

When the dead dogs’ stomachs were dissected and emptied, the contents proved they were the sheep killers. The dogs were taken to the Indwe police station. “We will be taking these dead dogs into the community to establish who the owners are,” said station commissioner Captain George Weideman. “Once ownership is proven we can inform the farmer, who in turn can press civil charges,” he explained.

All talk, no action

Weideman, however, warned that the police have a problem as there are no by-laws in place in the Emalahleni Municipality governing the ownership and control of dogs. Lady Frere, Indwe and Dordrecht fall under this municipality. “Over the last two years, on three occasions, I have requested in writing to the town manager that by-laws be put in place. To date nothing has been done. It is almost impossible to effect proper policing without these municipal by-laws.”

To Cloete, this is nothing new. “Last year, after losing more than 50 sheep, I approached the Indwe unit administrator Malibongwe Nziweni giving him a 16-page sample of the Jamestown by-laws, and requested that the process be expedited to get them in place. He agreed to mobilise the process. Now more than nine months later, all I get is broken promises, blame shifting and one excuse after another.”

When Farmer’s Weekly approached Nziweni for comment, he simply issued the following press statement: “The Emalahleni Municipality is already engaged in the process of making by-laws. At present, draft by-laws have been prepared by the Department of Community Services. To legalise the process, by-laws must be promulgated for information and public comments. The draft by-laws for stray animals will only be ready for promulgation after next week.” The statement was issued a year ago. Anger and frustration “Last August the killing of sheep by dogs started and went on for over three months. Farmers in our area had over 250 sheep killed by these stray dogs. Two weeks ago, I had 24 sheep killed by dogs and five maimed. My neighbour George Smith had six sheep mauled.

“The attack was so vicious that when the fleeing sheep became trapped against a fence, they bent over an iron standard in their attempt to get away. Gibson Knanetjie, an emerging farmer, also a neighbour, suffered losses through these dog attacks.

“Police are not able to bring charges against delinquent dog owners because there are no by-laws in place. A farmer cannot open a case of malicious damage to property, and we cannot prosecute the owner of the dog if there is no proof of intent. We have approached Agri EC, written letters to the provincial commissioner of police as well at the national commissioner.

“We as farmers have been in consultation with the local police and our municipality. We have warned them that we will take desperate action if nothing is done to protect us. We have three options: use poison on decaying carcasses; start legal proceedings against the municipality as these dogs are proven to have come from their land dwellers; and thirdly, we will start legal proceedings against the individual dog owners,” Cloete vented in frustration.

He explained that farmers have tried for several months to engage the municipality on the issue of by-laws. “We have planned meetings with farmers, Emalahleni Municipality, the SPCA and the Department of Environmental Affairs.”
These meetings were aborted for various reasons such as the strikes on 16 December 2006 when one of the meetings had been scheduled. The municipality cancelled the meeting as they said they could not guarantee the safety of cars during the strike. The reason for cancelling a meeting later in December was that the councillors were on leave. They then postponed it to January this year, but that meeting never materialised. “It is now June, and the Emalahleni Municipality still hasn’t done anything,” Cloete fumed.

Killing masks stock theft

He explained that the problem is often exacerbated by bitches in season that are not controlled by their owners. “The males form a chasing pack, after a few days, when they are away from the town, become hungry and start hunting. They follow the sheep scent on the wind to find our sheep and kill them.”

Stock theft is another part of the problem. Cloete explained that dogs are used and taught how to herd and attack sheep during the theft. Usually flocks are mixed during this activity. It takes the farmer a few days to sort out his flocks of sheep to discover the stolen sheep. Later, when the dogs are hungry they take themselves off on previously learnt hunting routes. Last year, father and son farming team Allan and Dallas Bradfield, farming in the Dordrecht district, lost over 50 sheep in three separate attacks. Many dogs were subsequently shot with the help of neighbouring farmers.

A man living in one of the Dordrecht townships, requesting to remain anonymous for reasons of possible reprisals and intimidation, explained what is happening in the Dordrecht townships. “It is common knowledge that hunting is a cover-up for sheep stealing on the surrounding farms. At night and when the moon is up, these guys take their dogs and lure other township dogs to join them on a hunt. When sheep are found they are herded, attacked and brought down. The entrails are then fed to these dogs; the meat is carried away and sold. The dogs now have a taste for sheep. Later, hunger drives them to hunt. These are the dogs that now go in and kill sheep on their own following their last learnt route. My own dog went missing three weeks ago. I am so upset! I think my dog was lured away and something has happened to him.”

Farmers in the Emalahleni Municipality are devastated by the ongoing massacre of their sheep which results in major financial losses. They are hoping that through the press pressure will be placed on finding solutions to this problem.