CAPE TOWN, 3rd January 2024 – The dawn of the New Year brought not just celebration but distress for numerous animals in the Cape Town area. The Cape of Good Hope SPCA was inundated with distress calls on the 1st and 2nd of January 2024, as terrified and injured animals bore the brunt of festive fireworks. We expect calls for displaced animals to continue in the days ahead.
Our Inspectors were on site at the V&A Waterfront to monitor marine birds on nests, seals who were asleep and all other wildlife in the immediate area where an industrial firework spectacle took place just as the clock struck twelve.
Our inspectors reported seeing marine bird pandemonium erupt as the fireworks display started. Hundreds of Hartlaub’s gulls took to the air and were seen colliding with one another mid-air in fear and confusion at the cacophony of loud banging noises.
On the V&A ‘s Seal Platform, an area of refuge provided for Cape fur seals to seek permanent shelter and protection, twenty-two slumbering seals were jarred awake into sudden panic by the fireworks and noise erupting all around them and were seen barking and biting each other in a panic to escape the noise. They were hesitant to flee into the sea, unsure if the perceived danger was in the water or on land. They decided to stay put on their platform instead and cowered together in the corner.
“It was heartbreaking to see these usually placid animals scared into flight or fight mode in response to a danger they had no idea how to handle. If everyone who thinks that fireworks have no impact on animals could just have witnessed what we saw, we think they would change their minds very quickly,” commented SPCA Wildlife Department supervisor Jon Friedman who was at the V&A Waterfront monitoring the seals.
In the lead-up to New Year’s Eve, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA followed several approaches to express concern to the Management of the V&A Waterfront and raise awareness of the detrimental impact of fireworks on local wildlife. As a last resort, this included a High Court application to interdict the fireworks from taking place. Regrettably, all our efforts failed with the V&A Waterfront proceeding with their scheduled fireworks display despite being forewarned about the potential harm to the vulnerable and protected marine and birdlife in the vicinity.
Chief Inspector Jaco Pieterse says “It is disheartening to see such indifference towards the plight of animals despite our proactive efforts to engage with the relevant parties and advocate for the well-being of animals”.
Alongside many reports received from around the metropole of injured and panicked domestic animals, many wild animals fell victim to firework-related suffering, among the reported casualties were several birds, an injured duiker, and a squirrel. Reports of injured sea birds are still being received and have come from as far away as Melkbostrand and Fishoek beach.
Loud, percussive noises (eg fireworks) are deeply distressing to animals, who do not understand the source of the sudden and terrifying stimuli. This causes animals to flee in panic, leading to accidents, injuries, and in some cases, even death. Fireworks, while visually appealing to humans, have severe, long-lasting and often tragic consequences for animals. The trauma of percussive loud noises often lingers in animals with sensitive hearing (eg, dogs, cats and seals), meaning that they remain frightened of any loud noise (thunder, a door banging, a car back-firing), long after the actual noise event has passed. In many animals “just 5 minutes” of fireworks can be life-altering in an acutely negative way.
We appeal to V&A Waterfront and other event organisers to recognise the shared responsibility of protecting vulnerable wildlife populations and to make compassion part of their decision-making processes.
Many animals have no doubt been displaced or are still hiding in fear.
We’re calling on the public to please look out for these animals and to call on us for assistance. If your own pet has gone missing, please report this via this link https://capespca.co.za/services/lost-and-found/. The SPCA collects animals from veterinary practises around Cape Town so please make our facilities one of the first places to look for your missing pet.