On arrival at the Owl Rescue Centre in Hartbeespoort, a 45-minute drive from Johannesburg, myself, photographer Justin Barlow and Karen Strever, Manager Marketing Internal Communications at Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM), are welcomed by co-founder Brendan Murray and four dogs (all rescues, the other eight are elsewhere on the property). We hop on a golf cart – the only way to get around in the reserve other than by foot, as it minimises any disturbances to the natural environment – and take a drive, with the dogs following, to the Owl Sky Lounge. En route, we enjoy the sights and sounds of the bush, while passing washing machines, a fridge and a car rigged up in the trees along the way.
“We recycle old appliances like ovens, washing machines and fridges (and even an old car!) to use as owl boxes,” laughs Brendan at our surprise, explaining how they clad and line the inside and owls move in.
Around the next corner I see pool noodles strung up in an owl enclosure. Brendan explains that many owls suffer eye injuries (they close their eyes in the last second before they catch their prey and often get pierced in the eye) and the noodles serve as obstacles – if the owls can dodge them when flying in the flight enclosure, they know their sight is fine and they can be released into their natural environment. The release process is determined by the age and species, using specifically researched release methods and owls that are non-indigenous to the region are returned to their territory.
Globally, Toyota has a long and proud history of environmental innovation and has become synonymous with environmental stewardship and conservation
Glenn Crompton, vice president of marketing at TSAM
It’s been 15 years since Brendan and his wife Danelle started the Owl Rescue Centre. Looking to make a career change, they were both keen to pursue their passion for conservation. They also knew that they wanted to specialise in a species to study it extensively and be able to positively impact the species. At the time the owl population was under threat, particularly urban raptors such as barn owls and spotted eagle owls, which were one of the most common wildlife casualties brought into veterinary practices. And so, the Owl Rescue Centre was born.
The Centre is dedicated to protecting owls, as well as rescuing and rehabilitating owls that are in danger or are injured, sick, poisoned or orphaned. The sanctuary is the only one of its kind in the world and many owls have taken up residency in the owl houses erected on the farm, where they breed year after year. “Although it has evolved to help different animals, the idea with the sanctuary was always to establish a safe place for owls,” says Danelle. “We specifically picked this spot because the Magaliesberg Mountain range is a protected area. A lot of our released owls settle in the Magalies gorge.”
The organisation has done an average of 2,000 rescues per year (1,600 of which are owls – the additional rescues include other raptors, baboons, monkeys and even an otter), covering almost 130,000km – so the Toyota SA sponsorship of a Toyota Hilux 4×4 double cab is a lifesaver. Toyota has been a sponsor since 2019 and this is the second Hilux provided, with the addition of a golf cart this year. Toyota SA has also been instrumental in the rebuilding of the owl enclosures after 12 were destroyed in a fire in September last year.
“Globally, Toyota has a long and proud history of environmental innovation and has become synonymous with environmental stewardship and conservation,” says Glenn Crompton, vice president of marketing at TSAM. “Encouraging conservation is key to TSAM as we realise that we can play a positive role in the societies and environment in which we operate. The support of the Owl Rescue Centre is just one initiative in this space.”
I leave the sanctuary feeling warm and fuzzy, better educated and in awe of people like Brendan and Danelle, who took the plunge to do what they love, passionately devoting their lives to conservation. And while they both admit it is a rollercoaster, with many heartbreaking moments, whenever they take a break, they miss it. These are wildlife warriors of the best kind, and it is undoubtedly worth the trip to meet the team and witness their work.
Brendan and Danelle’s work in conservation has earned them international acclaim and they have been appointed as members of the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) and SSC (Species Survival Commission).
How to support the Owl Rescue Centre
Owl Rescue Centre is a registered non-profit company.
Experiential dinners are hosted at the Owl Sky Lounge twice a month and include drinks and dinner while learning about owls and observing different species visiting the feeding platforms.
A great way for people to get to know the organisation is through the books that Danelle has published. “There is a connection to the subject when you read a book that is different to hearing stories. When you read a book from beginning to end, you get a message that you just can’t get across in any other way,” she says. Danelle’s memoir, My Dark Country (Arcanum Press) tells the story of her family’s dedication to saving owls. It is available through selected bookshops, Amazon, Kindle or direct purchase from Owl Rescue Centre. In September 2019, Owl Rescue Centre was asked to rewild, release and post release monitor a four-year-old Cape clawless otter called Lazarus. Read the heart-warming story in Return to the Wild (Reach Publishers). For order queries, email email@example.com
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