Betty's Bay tortoises rescued from fire by young conservationist
Australian zookeeper and TV personality, Steve Irwin, ignited a conservation passion in 17-year-old Corné Uys, who has been hailed a hero for saving 33 tortoises during the severe Betty’s Bay fire. Instead of fleeing for his life, Corné braved the smoke and ferocious flames that raged through Overstrand areas in the past few weeks, including Franskraal, Hermanus and Betty’s Bay, destroying homes and hectares of land. The Hermanus High School matric learner saidthat he has been a wildlife conservationist since a young age and was also a certified snake catcher in Hermanus. “The icon who sparked my passion was the legend himself Steve Irwin. To this day I still look up to him and he will always be my hero,” Corné added. He shares his adventures on a YouTube channel called Corné Uys Outdoors.
Last Friday, after being evacuated from school because of the fires, he and his dad jumped into action. “I got all the snake boxes and containers I could get my hands on and loaded them up on the back of the bakkie. We went straight back to the front lines. “The area where the fire was the most ferocious was unfortunately Hermanus Heights. The fire jumped over the road and into the neighbourhood.
"By this time the whole area was being evacuated, so it was total chaos. For the next three to four hours I was in and out of the blaze, rescuing our precious tortoises. When my adrenalin kicked in I just couldn’t stop. My dad and I drove up and down through the area alongside the mountain, desperately trying to spot tortoises between the smoke and flames,” he said.
Some of the animals were injured and Corné said all he could do was pour water over them, put them in the bakkie and pray. “Things got quite emotional from some of the things I saw. It wasn’t only tortoises but buck, dassies, field mice and the odd snake. But my main focus was on our poor tortoises, because they are the slowest. Eventually our containers were completely full and the blaze became too dangerous.”
“It really hurt knowing that there were many more out there that needed my help. Surprisingly, every tortoise I rescued was okay and made a full recovery. They were all released together the next day into our beloved Fernkloof Nature Reserve. It was an experience that will stay with me for a long time. I am humbled by the feedback but I don’t think I am a hero.” he said.
CapeNature said the fire scene was nothing short of shocking, however, fire and rescue teams kept going and remained positive. “From an ecological point of view, various fauna and flora being saved paid testament to staff who put their lives on the line trying to save whatever was in their pathway including structures while ecological staff quickly set up a wildlife rescue facility with the local animal welfare society.
“Teams responded to requests from people all over evacuating their homes and leaving animals behind. Teams managed to save a poodle and relocate it with her owner while the regional ecologist ended up with a hen and her chicks in the back of a bakkie. A Kogelberg field ranger was able to rescue a baby mouse,” CapeNature said in a statement.
“Along with the fire fighters and ecological staff, the local surrounding communities also played a huge role in assisting those in need. Residents from Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay provided meals to fire fighters and donated items including dog food, blankets and clothes for the people who had to evacuate their homes.
"Although it may not be much compensation for those adversely affected by the fire, from a positive point of view it was an exciting time witnessing the community spirit of those willing to help.”