Pretoria - The Bombela Concession has joined hands with a number of organisations to ensure the safe removal of indigenous wildlife along the planned Gautrain route near Salvokop.
The "Search and Rescue" exercise forms part of the Gautrain project's Environmental Management Plan, which ensures all necessary precautions are taken to care for the communities and environments affected by construction work.
The Salvokop area is significant in that a high number of medicinal plants are found there.
These include the Bushman Poison Bulb, Orange River Lilly, Doll's Powder Puff, Elandsbean, African potato, Wild Grape and Wild Carrot. There are also succulent plants and shrubs.
The search and rescue exercise was carried out by members of Free Me, Operation Wild Flower, the Transvaal Herpetological Association (snakes and reptiles) and traditional healers from the Mai-Mai market in Jeppestown, Johannesburg.
The three traditional healers from the Mai-Mai Market Martha Mhlabane, Evelyn Muyimane and Marylin McDowell told BuaNews that the exercise helped them find a number of medicinal plants for their retail market.
"We have come here to dig for medicinal plants and although we found some, we did not find many because it is winter; and certain plants grow in different areas," said Ms Mhlabane.
Ms Muyimane explained that some of the plants would be sold as herbs in their market.
"Some of the plants will be placed in a nursery and following the completion of construction work, these plants will be replanted in some of the surrounding [bushy] area so that in the future we, and others after us, can come back to harvest these important plants.
"Conservation is very important in making sure that all these plants are available for generations to come," Ms McDowell explained to BuaNews.
Nicci Wright of the Free Me Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre told BuaNews that the exercise was "critically important" because it raised awareness and consciousness of the environment and the disturbance it always faced.
"Today we assessed what animals live here and we found about eight species including jackal, mongoose and small antelope.
"These animals are bigger and will be able to move uphill when construction commences because there is enough space.
"When construction starts we will come back here to remove smaller mammals and reptiles, such as shrews and dormice because they are too small to move out of the way quickly," said Ms McDowell.
She added that it was important to save even the smallest animals because all those animals and plants were an important part of the ecosystem and to the food chain in the area.
Also speaking to BuaNews, West van der Vyver, the Chairperson of the Section 21 organisation - Operation Wildflower, explained that his organisation's objective was to "rescue" plants during the construction of bridges, roads, dams and at mining operations.
"We are a non-profit organisation so we do not sell these plants. Instead we plant them in our gardens and municipalities who are our members also plant them in their public parks," he said.
Mr van der Vyver expressed pity that plants continued to be damaged and destroyed during many construction projects in the country but also applauded the search and rescue exercise.
"This is very important, that more people get involved and gain better knowledge about plans and it may change their perception [about the destruction of plants]," he said.
First published by BuaNews, 11 July 2007