3. Conserving the Pan from 1953 – Korsman Bird Park
Nic Korsman, a town councillor and resident in Sunny Rd, walked his dogs at the pan every day. A great admirer of birdlife, he was dismayed to see how many birds were being killed by dogs and initiated a project to fence the pan area to protect the bird life. He met with the Town Engineer, Mr. Smith, and Head of Parks, Mr. Dubbeld, who were astonished by the great diversity of waterfowl at the pan. The fencing was completed in 1956 and the area was named “Korsman Bird Park” after the originator.
Over the following years, plants and various game species were introduced. In 1954, reeds, bulrushes and exotic trees were planted at the pan, eventually changing the habitat from grassland to mixed grassland and woodland.
Blesbok, duiker, springbok and steenbok were introduced into the pan area in 1956 and later in 1964, three zebras were presented to Korsman by Mr. Morris Nestadt. There were numerous problems with the animals. The springbok were not suitable for the environment, being plains animals. The zebras appeared not to want to share the Sanctuary with other animals and started to kill newly born blesbuck, and were therefore transferred to Johannesburg Zoo. A steenbuck was stolen because it was used to being fed by the public, and would go to the fence.
Of the eight ostriches which came to the Sanctuary in 1959, two were stolen and five died, leaving only one female, so a male ostrich was brought from Nigel for breeding purposes. The first chicks, rejected by their mother, were put into a nursery until they were old enough to be brought back to the Sanctuary. In 1985 the female laid another eight eggs from which six young ostriches were successfully reared.
The ostriches were fed by the Council caretaker Enoch Masuko. Enoch, who lived within the Sanctuary, had a special relationship with the birds in the park and knew them by name. Most were very comfortable around Enoch, although the ostriches could be aggressive. In case the male ostrich would get too stroppy, Enoch took a long stick with him on his walks through the park, to defend himself if the ostrich were to attack. Enoch was distraught when one Friday night, people broke in with their dogs and slaughtered ostriches and their chicks. Sadly, the last ostrich bled to death on a car part that had been thrown over the fence.
Although the introduction of a pair of Blue Cranes in 1966 was ultimately unsuccessful, Enoch developed a special rapport with them. Whenever Enoch set off to inspect the sanctuary, the female blue crane, Anna, would follow him closely – often with the male crane Piet also tagging along.
In 1967, Korsman Bird Park was declared Korsman Bird Sanctuary by the Transvaal Department of Nature Conservation. For several years this department complained that the area was overgrazed and that the animals were in a poor condition. Blesbuck had formed bachelor groups. Nature Conservation decided in 1985 to move the animals (then 13 springbok and 12 blesbuck) to Suikerbosrand. However, this decision was very unpopular with Benoni residents and the council decided to keep them. The buck were finally removed when the Pan flooded in 1996 and they developed hoof rot.
In later years, a large group of confiscated tortoises were introduced, but they all managed to escape through gaps in the fencing. The last one was repeatedly returned to the Sanctuary after escaping, but eventually disappeared.
Hundreds of frogs and bullfrogs were also relocated into the Sanctuary in 1985 and 1986 by Anne Mearns.
Volunteers from 1980
Anne is a conservationist and wetland activist in Benoni who has won numerous awards for her work, most notably the Global 500 International Award from UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) in 1998. Anne is involved in the Gauteng Conservancy Association and has encouraged the formation of numerous Conservancies on the East Rand, including Korsman Conservancy.
Through being a member of the Wildlife Society in Benoni, Anne was most involved at Korsman from 1982 into the 1990s. She initiated a project to build an environmental education centre at Korsman, but the project was ultimately turned down by the Wildlife Society head office, a great disappointment for her.
Anne drew up a management plan for Korsman which included reed control, litter traps in storm water drains, and a burning programme, which was accepted by Council in 1993, but little was ever carried out.
A bird hide was sponsored and built by WESSA (Wildlife and Environmental Society of SA) in 1996. (This hide accidentally burnt down in 2007 in a fire started by Council workers.)
Her Wilge Veld and Youth Club started using Korsman in 1985 for environmental education. Amongst other projects, the children planted indigenous trees and studied Korsman's birds and butterflies.
Friends of Korsman
In 2002, a group of concerned volunteers, under the leadership of the late well-known conservationist Ian Dustan, formed “Friends of Korsman” recognising a need to preserve and upgrade Korsman Bird Sanctuary. The group fell under the auspices of WESSA.
Friends of Korsman held monthly work parties to collect litter and clear storm water inlets into the pan. They removed dilapidated wire structures of the old animal pens, planted indigenous trees and succulents and removed invasive alien plants and a large number of domestic geese. To raise funds for various projects they held fun walks around the Sanctuary, and educational guided walks within the Sanctuary.
In 2005, a new bird hide, largely sponsored by Pam Golding Properties, was erected at Aloe St. The approach to the hide was fenced to make it open to the public. This hide was burnt down by vandals in 2011.
Korsman Conservancy was established in 2010 by Thys Venter.