Citizens act to save the endangered Pelicans & leopard toads of Cape Town’s Black River

A river commuters drive past every day is a haven for endangered species at risk from pollution, litter and alien vegetation – 8 December is the day to give the wild a chance

Two days before Al Gore receives the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in trying to protect the environment, Cape Town citizens and local and foreign tourists will take part in a massive clean up of a small and beautiful piece of Africa.

Every day thousands of motorists drive past the pelicans of Black river at one of Cape Town’s busiest intersections; from air conditioned vehicles the birds and the river are beautiful, it’s only as you get close on foot that the stench hits you. One of Cape Town’s most beautiful and visible landmarks is being polluted to death.

The Great White pelicans on the Black River are a red-data species (which means they are threatened with extinction), the river and pans next to the river is also host to the endangered West leopard toad and the Raapenburg area of the river is a very important duck-breeding area, according to Clifford Dorse of the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management branch. He also says that environmentalists believe that the Cape otter and water mongeese – both of which are rare – are still in the river despite pollution and water hyacinth clogging it.

The Black River could be called the Mother City’s tourist river, it runs through the city from the eastern slopes of Table Mountain to Paarden Eiland, however it, and the incredible bio-diversity of creatures it nurtures are all in danger because people are too lazy to dispose of waste appropriately. On Saturday 8 December, What-On-Earth-is-Happening (WOE) a citizen group started by Cape Town resident, Leila Beltramo will lead a massive campaign, backed by the City of Cape Town, celebrities, other environmental and corporate partners to clean up the Black River in one of its most polluted stretches close to where the N2 connects with the M5.

The campaign is hoped to be part of an ongoing environmental awareness process that will involve communities, corporates, government and the bio-tech firms that line the Black River Parkway.

It goes through the Rondebosch golf club where golfers sometimes pause to watch the wide variety of birds that live on the Black River including pelicans, herons, kingfishers, cormorants, wild geese and fish eagles.


The Black River flanks some of the oldest and wealthiest suburbs in Cape Town (Claremont, Rondebosch, Rosebank and Mowbray), it goes past important historical sites (the Royal Observatory, Prince of Wales Blockhouse) and some of its wealthiest businesses and government scientific organisations including Cape Biotech and the CSIR, all of which should have the capacity to prevent the dreadful loss of one of Cape Town’s most important ecological arteries.

A wide variety of flowers grace the river around the year including buttercups and arum lilies, blue liliadeae, baviana, yellow daisies, irises, vygies, golden stars, cerise sorrels, sky-blue flax, white scented catstails and orange gazanias. In days past kukmakranmka would drop its scented yellow seed pod near its banks which was eaten by buck and the Khoi-San, but is now extinct. Dorse says, “m ost of what now blooms along the river is alien – dominated by invasive kikuyu grass. Very few indigenous plants remain.”

Transnet owns 173ha of the land and its subsidiary the SA Rail Commuter Corporation owns 123ha of the 300ha swathe of land that binds the river to the central city and its port. Bird life is prolific along the river and among at least 200 species includes the Great White Pelican , Hartlaub’s G ull, Common Waxbill, P ied Avocet, Fiscal Shrike , Cape Canary, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Little Bittern , South African shelduck and Cape shovelers.

The river which is mostly banked by parkland unlike the Liesbeeck River which runs through densely populated areas is nonetheless severely polluted with City of Cape Town recording high levels of e.coli and expressing concerns that more serious pollution is probably present. City officials complain that the incidence of pollution along the motorways and choking the river has reached epidemic proportions as thoughtless drivers, pedestrians and companies that are close to the river thoughtlessly discharge waste into nature’s precious artery.

Research by Benjamin Abban of the University of Cape Town Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment in February last year suggested that “businesses in the catchment area should be encouraged to adopt the pavements and kerbs in front of their premises and keep them free of litter … Street sweepers need to be educated or reminded on a regular basis on the effects of dumping litter into the drainage system.”

Leila Beltramo who founded What-On-Earth-Is-Happening said her group was formed by “ordinary people really concerned about climate change and who want to find ways to do whatever they can to ease environmental damage starting in their own homes and communities. It is completely voluntary and I have been amazed and inspred by how helpful City of Cape Town officials and those from Working for Water of the Department of Water Affairs have been and how sincere they are in encouraging residents to help keep one of the world’s most beautiful cities clean for us and future generations.

“We are inviting celebrities, corporates, other environmental organisations and key role players to join us and will make announcements about this later. We appeal for volunteers to help us get this project off the ground by contributing time and imagination and ask corporates to help sponsor posters and flyers.”

For more information contact:

What-On-Earth-Is Happening co-ordinator Leila Beltramo at 083 427 3940 or email

Source: MediaOnLine 011 646 7637

Technorati Tags: black river, leila beltramo, environment

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I am the Vice-Chairman of The Friends of the Liesbeek
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