The covid-19 lockdown has not stopped wildlife rehabilitator, Vanessa Davis, from ensuring that animals are protected and cared for.

During the covid-19 pandemic many South African citizens wonder: what happens to injured, homeless and endangered animals during the lockdown? The answer lies in the story of Vanessa Davis, who works at the South African Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Springs, Gauteng, in order to care for and rehabilitate animals in need.

Davis has worked in various capacities for the organisation since 2008, which includes being a senior rehabilitator and social media liaison, as she writes and publishes articles for the SAWRC to increase public awareness around animal rehabilitation.

“I think each of us who are involved wears many hats without a label… we just get stuck in and do what is necessary to make the rehab work,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. “We each carry a massive load with no assistance from government to look after our country’s wildlife. We rely on the generosity of donations to keep us going.”

Davis said some of the positive effects of the lockdown include less ambient noise, fewer car-related animal injuries and more time to perform maintenance on cages and prepare for the next breeding season. However, there is also concern about the shortage of ‘non-essential’ building materials, as well as the worry that once the lockdown is over, “We will have double the number of car versus wildlife cases,” according to her.

The SAWRC performs many critical roles which include mitigating human and animal conflict, educating the community through talks at schools and clubs, reuniting fledglings with adults, providing medical care for injured animals and transporting animals from human settlements back into the wild.

In this video, a leopard found in a laundry was relocated to a safer enclosure using the soft release method:

Alan Mallinick (52), a close friend of Davis’s who has, on occasion, “pulled porcupine quills out of her”, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The work she does is vital for the sustainable existence of wildlife in general. She is level-headed, calculating, methodical and constantly mindful of what needs to be achieved for the best outcome for the wildlife she is working on… I am grateful I have the privilege of being part of her journey.”

To many, Davis is known as ‘The Owl Lady’, as many owls that are found in the East Rand in need of care are brought to her. “Apparently, I have quite a knack or affinity with owls. They all seem to respond incredibly well to me,” said Davis. “Owls have this tranquil, fascinating and majestic nature and I love being awake with them while the world sleeps… besides, I’ve learnt to hoot quite well.”

In this video, Davis shows the treatment of avian trichomoniasis in a spotted eagle-owl:

Despite working very long hours, maintaining little privacy and not receiving a regular salary, Davis said she loves the work she does. “Knowing that one has the ability to make a positive difference for vulnerable life, always prompts one to want to help more, learn more, be more, or go the extra mile. It is humbling and fulfilling to know one is quite capable of saving a living thing without needing anything in return.”

According to Mallinick, wildlife is being displaced at an alarming rate. “Culture, superstition, poaching and both the legal and illegal wildlife trade take their toll in ways that the public are conveniently unaware of. Vanessa is involved not only in the physical rehabilitation of wildlife, but also puts an enormous amount of energy into changing public perception,” he said.

Davis would like all communities to stop using poison, not to harm any wildlife and to support local rehabilitation centres through donations and volunteering. “Each [animal] deserves life. Be gentle and leave them be or choose rather to ask for help with removal.”

If you encounter any animals that require care or if you’d like to support the SAWRC, contact CEO Judy Davidson at 073 112 1131.

FEATURED IMAGE: Vanessa ‘The Owl Lady’ Davis, caring for a warthog at the South African Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Photo: Provided.