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    Stand-off pits penguins against people

    12:39 PM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CBS) -- The latest clash between mankind and nature is playing out on the scenic Boulder's beach in South Africa.

    This time it's the endangered African penguin which finds itself at the front lines, the oblivious enemy of local residents angry that the birds have overwhelmed beach barriers and wandered inland onto their properties in an army numbering thousands.

    A nature reserve in the Betty's Bay area, about 62 miles from Cape Town, Boulder's beach provides a safe haven for birds, protecting them from the effects of human settlement, commercial activities and pollution. But residents complain that in recent months they have become besieged by the birds which they say are wreaking devastation on their land and property.

    Seventy-year-old Betty's Bay resident Barbara Wallers finds herself at the forefront of the conflict. Pointing angrily to damage she says penguins have caused in her beloved garden, Wallers blasted: "Look what they have done to the bushes here; they have killed all the garden."

    Wallers, who has lived in Betty Bay since 1947, says she is used to seeing the occasional penguin in her garden, but that they have increased in the last two years, leaving droppings and making a lot of noise.

    "We have got all the guano and the feathers and when the wind blows we get all this bloody black rubbish in our house, and the noise at night is unreal -- they bellow and bellow and bellow, I did not sleep last night from 3.45 the other morning," she added.

    Other residents complain that the birds have become a nuisance. They say they are worried about their health, especially when the birds start breeding.

    "The solution is that the municipality should keep the penguins located to their own property. I don't mind the penguins at all, if they are on the municipal property or on the nature conservation property, whichever authority takes responsibility for the penguins, as long as they are not on my own property and causing a disturbance and problems," said Betty's Bay resident Johannes Klopper.

    Residents blame the increased invasion of penguins on poor infrastructure. A fence built to restrain the birds from wandering inland has not been maintained for many years and is not large enough to contain them. Locals say the fence is also full of holes and accuse the local municipality of breaking promises to erect a replacement large enough to keep the penguins away from the homes.

    According to the South African Foundation for the Conservation for Coastal Birds or SANNCOB, the African penguin population has decreased by 90 percent in the last century, and is mainly threatened by human settlements, commercial over-fishing and pollution.

    "It's a real sadness because there should be a co-existence between the penguins and the people. I think there are many people in Betty's Bay that absolutely adore the penguins, so I think it would be wonderful if the organizations that manage them which is Cape Nature Reserve and Overstrand (Municipality) and the people of Betty's Bay can take hands and this thing can quietly be resolved," said Margaret Roestorf, Executive Director of the South African Foundation for the Conservation for Coastal Birds (SANNCOB).

    Local authorities say they are already working on plans to extend the fence in the coming months, to prevent penguins from reaching people's homes. Until that time Wallers and her neighbors will have to learn to live with the unwanted guests flocking to their gardens. As the world's human population continues its seemingly inexorable rise, conservationists believe the Betty's Bay conflict will be far from the last time mankind finds itself in a battle for domination with nature.

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