Friday, June 5, 2009

Bullfrogs versus Bureaucracy

Proposed development on Portions 15, 41 & 49 of the Farm Olifantsfontein 410JR, referred to as Clayville Extension 50

A meeting was held on Thursday May 28 2009 at the Eskom Conference Centre with Golder Associates Africa, who are preparing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Approximately 80 residents were present. Janet Schofield represented RCE and the Midrand SPCA. Robyn Heathfield also attended.

The proposed development by Calgro M3 is for social charter housing, to include 15 000 units. One-third would be Housing Department subsidy houses valued up to R100 000, with the remainder being valued between R200 000 and R600 000.

Minutes of the meeting, including comments and slide are to be sent as soon as possible, when available.

Some of the comments include:

· The Glen Austin Pan is a protected area and no development should take place within a one kilometre radius.

· There are insufficient bulk services and electricity available to support the development.

· The entrances to the development depend on the construction of the proposed K109.

· Ekurhuleni’s own biodiversity plan names the Glen Austin Pan as one of 8 wetlands to be protected within the municipality.

Rob Heathfield submitted an objection to the proposed development to the EIA consultants on June 1 (acknowledged on June 3).


In an astonishing turn of events, an area written about in publications as widely respected as the New York Times, and explored by David Attenborough and the BBC, is about to be bulldozed to make way for 17,000 low cost houses. This, despite the fact that there is an international effort underway to save the African Bullfrog. The species is not only listed on the IUCN listed of endangered, threatened and protected species, but also on a list published by the Minister of Environment in 2007. The Glen Austin bullfrog reserve and the Glen Austin Bird Sanctuary will make way for a 400ha RDP housing development, and a nail in the coffin of the Pyxicephalus adspersus will have been struck.

So what were City Parks saying back in 2004, when they said: "We are currently negotiating with land owners in the area so that we can make the whole pan into a conservation area." Clearly this was forgotten some time later, and the largest landowner in question had their farm expropriated to make way for 17000 houses. In fact in 2004, 3000 housing beneficiaries were listed, long before the farm was expropriated.

Officially recognized as a bird sanctuary, the pan (and its resident population of bullfrogs) was recent recognized, according to GDACE (the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment), as one of several “Irreplaceable” Biodiversity sites in Gauteng Province. The DEAT website says: The protection of Giant Bullfrog populations at Bullfrog Pan and Glen Austin is considered crucial to the long-term conservation of this species in the Province. GDACE is in the process of identifying additional areas that are important for sustaining the breeding, foraging and migration requirements of this species and all pans are considered potential habitat.”

The City of Joburgs’ report on sustainable environmental management lists the Glen Austin Pan as an ecologically sensitive area, while the Ekurhuleni Biodiversity and Conservation Report of 2003 claims:

There are 8 protected areas within the EMM, comprising 0.97% of the land area. Ekurhuleni contains a small portion of the northern section of Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. The following nature reserves are included in the EMM: Marievale Bird Sanctuary Provincial Nature Reserve, Korsman Bird Sanctuary, Glen Austin Bird Sanctuary, D Meyer Bird Sanctuary, D Meyer Municipal Nature Reserve, Rondebult Bird Sanctuary, Bill Stewart Municipal Nature Reserve. Many of these bird sanctuaries are popular places for tourists and birders to visit.” With less than 1% of the total Ekuruhleni protected, one might imagine they would be less cavalier about the loss of one of the 8 areas. The problem with the Glen Austin pan and the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary, is that they are located just outside the border between Joburg and Ekuruhleni, so technically they fall under the jurisdiction of Joburg City Parks and the Jo’burg Municipality.

Published on the Joburg City website:

A bid to save
the African bullfrog

September 22, 2004

By Anish Abraham

THE African bullfrog - an inhabitant of the Glen Austin pan in Midrand - has been listed as a "near threatened" species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and Johannesburg City Parks has decided to do something about it.

City Parks, along with a residents' group in Midrand, the University of Pretoria and Gauteng's Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs, are investigating the possibility of setting up a conservation area to preserve the bullfrogs' natural habitat.

The Glen Austin pan is home to one of Gauteng's largest populations of African bullfrogs.

About two thirds of the pan is owned by City Parks, while the rest is in private hands.

"We are currently negotiating with land owners in the area so that we can make the whole pan into a conservation area," says John Kruger of City Parks.

"One of the main problems is the uncontrolled development in these areas leading to loss of habitat," says Caroline Yetman of the Centre for Environmental Studies at the University of Pretoria, explaining that "near threatened" classification is given to species that are likely to face the future risk of extinction in the wild.

As part of her PhD on the Glen Austin frogs, Yetman is currently working on DNA sequencing and fitting some of the frogs with radio transmitters for tracking purposes. Earlier in 2004 Yetman counted some 100 adult bullfrogs in the pan and says this number shows a general decline - a statement supported by many residents in the area.

Research conducted by Clayton Cook of the University of the North on the African bullfrogs in the Glen Austin pan between 1991 and 1996 reported that there were between 250 and 300 adults and over half a million juveniles at that time.

"These frogs are very difficult to track, so getting an exact figure is difficult," says Yetman, adding that in an effort to track the frogs, "we are requesting that members of the public that spot these frogs should photograph them and send it to us with details of where they were found."

The African bullfrogs' breeding grounds are in the poorly drained rocky highveld grasslands of Midrand and Fourways, as well as on the East Rand.

The bullfrog pan in Benoni, where around 100 adults used to breed, is believed to be the only other major breeding area in the province, with a large numbers of tadpoles dying because of water contamination.

Unlike a stream or river, a pan has no in- or outflow of water. A depression in the ground that is covered by rainwater, it dries up during extended periods without rainfall and in extremely hot summer conditions.

Besides affecting the environment, construction developments in Glen Austin are leading to increased water usage and the draining of marsh areas for building.

Cook maintains that there has been an 80 percent decline in African bullfrog numbers in the last 10 to 15 years and the possibility of the species becoming extinct in Gauteng area in another 10 years is very real.

A primary factor leading to the decline in bullfrog numbers is the destruction of the frogs' habitat. Cook points out that developments in the area in the early 1980s, "including the Fourways Mall, were done on former wetland areas".

He adds: "Putting up high security walls has also hampered the breeding of these frogs as they are highly migratory."

Another threat to the frogs is the human palate. In some cultures, especially in northern and eastern Namibia, the African bullfrog is regarded as a delicacy. This trend has also surfaced in Limpopo, where the frogs are being unlawfully sold from the back of bakkies for their meat.

Cook also claims that these frogs are being illegally caught and sold overseas to collectors. In countries like US and Germany, where demand is high, collectors pay as much as $100 for a large adult male.

The African bullfrog, however, is a protected species and trading in them is prohibited, according to Craig Whittington-Jones, a scientist at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs in Gauteng.

Several hundred frogs are killed on the roads when they leave the pans at the end of the breeding season.

"People are also known to catch tadpoles and young frogs from pans and other breeding areas to feed their pet snakes," Yetman adds.

"It's really difficult for the police to enforce environmental regulations, you find pet shops in Johannesburg with lizards and other amphibians even though it is illegal to trade in those species," adds Cook.

"The only way to help these frogs is by getting as much public awareness and support as possible."

To secure the future of the Glen Austin pan and preserve the African bullfrog population in the province, City Parks is working towards forming a Bullfrog Working Group made up of interest groups like local landowners, Ekhuruleni Metro, the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs, the Centre for Environment Studies at the University of Pretoria, the Working for Wetlands and Working for Water groups and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

For more information, contact Johan Kruger or Willie Nell of Johannesburg City Parks on 011 712 6600, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on 012 342 8304/5/6, or Caroline Yetman at the Centre for Environment Studies at University of Pretoria on 012 420 4283.

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