Rescued from the Flames


Anton Crone
13 March 2015

‘The roots are still smouldering. Every now and then you hear a crash as one of the trees goes down in the forest,’ says Gareth Petterson, Inspector of SPCA’s Cape of Good Hope Wildlife Unit after returning from a rescue mission. ‘We were up there this morning and I thought it was quite warm. Then I looked down to see smoke coming out from under my shoes,’ adds Supervisor Megan Reid.
They had just returned from Klein Constantia on the slopes below Table Mountain National Park where they recovered a porcupine in the smouldering forest. For 5 days a fire had raged through 5,500 hectares of the Cape Peninsula with strong winds and extreme temperatures making it difficult for fire fighters to control. The pads on the porcupine’s feet had been burned and most of her quills were gone having caught fire and disintegrated. ‘Her under-quills seem to have saved her,’ explained Gareth.

SPCA supervisor Megan Reid at the site of the porcupine snare. Porcupine’s are snared for food and body parts used in traditional medicine.
The surviving porcupine’s quills were burnt off by the fire.
The injure porcupine receives treatment at SPCA Wildlife Unit’s facilities. ©SPCA
Without her armoury of quills the porcupine is defenceless

Looking into the pen where the porcupine was recovering after treatment, I realised just how small she was without her armour; a dark shadow of the creature that will not hesitate to defend itself against the likes of leopards by backing into them with their sharp quills. But without her natural protection she cowered in a corner, wary of everyone.
Another porcupine had been caught in a snare, unable to escape the flames. The feeble hope is that he or she (the remains were unrecognisable) was already dead by the time the fire reached it. All that remained was a charcoal lump at the end of a long constricting tube made of wire fencing. I picked it up, remarking how very light it was, completely devoid of moisture. I regretted it as the charcoal remains crumbled in my hands.
The small Wildlife Unit of just three people, including trainee Shaun Giles, perform an essential task over a vast area of over 11,000 square kilometers. They are often extremely busy rescuing animals and caring for them, but Megan says the most challenging part of last week was not being able to reach animals as the fire raged through Table Mountain National Park. ‘You know there are animals suffering but you can’t get near them. It’s too dangerous, or you could get in the way of the firefighters. We spent most of the week at Lakeside Fire Station feeling helpless as we watched the mountain burn. All we could do was help pack refreshments for the fighters.’