Remembering the fallow deer of Rhodes Memorial

One of my favourite bloggers from an exquisitely beautiful neck of the woods (literally, I think) in Canada recently put up a post about the deeply calming effects of observing deer grazing.

And that reminded me about when I was still little and first came to Cape Town to live here with my mom. It would have been in the mid-1970s.

I vividly recall visiting the forested area around Rhodes Memorial on the east-facing slopes of Devil’s Peak, more or less above the University of Cape Town. Cecil John Rhodes, in whose honour Sir Herbert Baker had designed the Memorial (it was completed in 1912), introduced a herd of fallow deer to these forests.

I went there a few days ago to take some photos. This is probably the most famous view of Rhodes Mem.

Rhodes Memorial

Rhodes Memorial

This is the view from the top of the stairs, eastwards across the big expanse of the appropriately named Cape Flats towards the Hottentots Hollands Mountains.

View east towards the mountains

View east towards the mountains

And this is a close-up of the famous statue, called ‘Energy’.

Statue of Energy

Statue of Energy

There was also a zoo just a little bit down the hill from here, which closed down in the late 1970s. All that remains is the old lions’ den. Occasionally, it hosts theatre performances, but I have not yet managed to buy tickets in time for these.

Back to my childhood: I clearly remember the delight of feeding pieces of soft bread or bites of an apple to the fallow deer, many of which had become quite accustomed to people and would walk right up to you. I still have a photo of me holding out my hand and feeding one.

And I also remember how terrified I was initially (okay, I was small!), because I thought they might bite me (they didn’t!), and how in awe I was of these beautiful creatures with their delicate long legs, peaceful liquid eyes and soft noses.

Every trip to the Memorial to feed the deer, gaze out at the incredible scenery – most of the Cape Peninsula is visible from up there – or to have a bite to eat at the little tea garden behind the Memorial, was special.

In recent years, unfortunately, the bright sparks at Cape Nature Conservation and in charge of Table Mountain National Park decided that these beautiful deer were ALIEN creatures, because they had been imported from Europe.

And so they decided to cull them. (In other words, ‘kill’ them, but ‘killing’ isn’t a nice word…)

Generations of Capetonians who had grown up seeing these beautiful creatures on the mountain slopes, protested strongly against this slaughter, demanding they be captured and relocated instead, but – alas – to no avail.

In a press release from TMNP dated 13 March 2006, titled “Fallow Deer in Table Mountain National Park”, they stated (I quote in full):

“We would like to take the opportunity to correct some misconceptions about the issue around the shooting of Fallow Deer in the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).

TMNP is not undertaking culling or population control of Fallow Deer. One of the biggest management challenges that face the TMNP is dealing with issues that involve the urban edge where the TMNP meets the City of Cape Town. One of these challenges is the fact that Fallow Deer are territorial animals that range in an attempt to establish new territories. In order to do so certain animals habitually break holes in the game fence and wander into M3 highway. This poses a threat to motorists on the highway and the consequence of a vehicle colliding with a large deer does not bear thinking about.  It is only these deer that TMNP has been forced to remove in the interests of public safety.

Once again, please accept our assurances that this is in no way a precursor to culling or population control, as this would only be considered after a process of consultation has been undertaken.

Removal methods have been recommended by the Animal Use and Care Committee (AU&CC) that consists of senior SANParks staff and representatives from external agencies including Onderstepoort Veterinary Training Institute. The AU&CC has also recommended that we undertake population control.

However, TMNP will not act on the latter recommendation until it has discussed the potential for translocation permits for alien fauna with CapeNature (the provincial conservation agency) and consulted with the TMNP Park Forum Steering Committee concerning approach.  The final decision will be informed by these consultations and will be taken by the SANParks EXCO as and when ready.

There is no current urgency for action in this regard and nothing is planned for this year.

Lastly, the staff of TMNP are conservationists with a deep love and appreciation of nature which is why they have dedicated their careers to preserving our natural heritage. Issues around problem animal management are not welcomed and are dealt with only out of necessity and, in this case, in the interests of public safety.”

Although TMNP declared that “There is no current urgency for action in this regard and nothing is planned for this year”, a mere four months later, on 19 July 2006, TMNP issued another press release, titled “TMNP to launch first phase of fallow deer population control program”, which effectively contradicted the above:

“Table Mountain National Park will, in the coming weeks, be undertaking the first phase of a program focussing on population control of Fallow Deer within the … [sentence not completed]

Cape Nature has issued a permit for the translocation of Fallow Deer. Live capture is the most feasible option and will be carried out by a team of specialists from SANParks’ department of Veterinary and Wildlife services. The population control is necessary at this stage to counter a rapid increase in the Fallow Deer population within TMNP.

We will continue engaging with stakeholders about a permanent solution that is accepted by all concerned. However, it is important to understand that legislation obliges SANParks to eradicate invasive alien species. Where it is impossible to eradicate, the law dictates that everything possible must be done to manage/control the species.  The Fallow Deer has proved to be an invasive alien, which means ultimately it has to be removed. In addition, the removal of the Fallow deer is part of TMNP’s wildlife management vision and plan to 2010 – the end goal being the reintroduction of some 8 species of indigenous wildlife into an expanded enclosure (including Red Hartebeest, Eland and Duikers), in keeping with Cecil John Rhodes’ Will and SANParks’ vision.

Why Are Fallow Deer Considered “invasive”?

• Fallow Deer are an exotic alien species brought to South Africa in the 19th century. SANParks is mandated by the Protected Areas Act to eradicate invasive alien species or bring them under control.
• There are no predators to assist with population control and the Deer are breeding very successfully, thus their numbers continue to increase.
• There are more than 350 Fallow Deer within Table Mountain National Park at present and they are out competing indigenous animals.
• This puts the veldt under enormous strain, to the point where TMNP has to feed the animals like zoo keepers, and that’s not a desirable option in a National Park.
• The Fallow Deer are also guilty of ring barking and killing off the Silver tree in the process, which is one of the few tree proteas on the Cape Peninsula.
• There have been a few incidents in the past where the animals have jumped the fences of the Estate, posing a danger to motorists. In these instances TMNP has had to shoot them, following guidelines issued by the Animal Use and Care Committee.
• The Fallow Deer cause severe damage to fences.

The Capture Operation:

A successful capture operation can only occur during late winter when the Fallow Deer are in the game camp attracted by the fresh grass. Numbers in the game camp during winter are usually in the order of 150 to 200 animals. However, the number of animals relocated will depend on how many can be safely captured and transported.

Two capture camps are envisaged, based on the current movement patterns and behaviour of the deer. The standard operating practice of funnels, curtains and collapsing capture nets will be employed.  Captured animals will be tranquilized by a VWS Vet and moved to Game Trucks for translocation.

The Way Forward

TMNP will request that the NSPCA monitors the live capture operation and provide feedback on areas that require improvement before continuing with the next phase. The National Park will also encourage input from interested and affected parties through our Park Forum towards finalizing plans for complete removal. TMNP will in the meantime seek to secure funds to expand the current Game Camp to 400Ha, for our planned reintroduction of indigenous wildlife.

Anyone who wishes to comment about this process can download feedback forms on or email for more information.”

Although I trawled the ‘net for more information and news reports, I have not been able to find anything more recent that can tell me what has eventually happened to the deer. My guess is that most of them were killed.

Sorry, culled.

Incidentally, TMNP and CNC feel exactly the same about the Himalayan tahrs, the sambar deer, and the pine trees.

The Himalayan tahrs on the Table Mountain range are descended from the tahrs which escaped from the Groote Schuur zoo in 1936:

“Tahrs (sometimes spelt thar) are shy animals, slightly larger than goats, with males sporting a long, shaggy mane. Although native to North India, two were imported from New Zealand in 1937 and kept in the zoo on the Rhodes Estate. They soon escaped by jumping the fence and disappeared onto Table Mountain. The tahrs thrived on the fynbos and easily adapted to the mountain climate.

Their rubber-like hooves made for easy movement on the steep cliffs and soon they posed a significant threat to the fynbos. In recent decades conservation authorities introduced culling programmes to limit the numbers of tahrs. The aim is to completely remove the remaining individuals, paving the way for the indigenous klipspringer to be reintroduced.” (Article about animal-watching on Table Mountain)

Every single one of them was killed in the course of 2004, despite an uproar from the public.

I haven’t been able to find out what happened to the sambar deer.

But I can confirm that the pine trees are all being chopped down, as part of the alien clearing programme of TMNP. They are also trying to get rid of other invasive alien, such as Port Jackson, Rooikrans, Wattle, Hakea, and Blue Gum. Apparently, the reason for this is that these trees and shrubs are having a negative impact on the fynbos ecosystem by, for instance, using too much water, destabilising river banks, and competing with indigenous species. They are also highly flammable, which is a particular problem during hot and dry summers.

Although I would agree with that, one unfortunate side effect for hikers and walkers on the mountain is that, with the removal of all  the tall trees, most of the shade is now gone. The fynbos is generally not high enough to provide shade.

But back to Flandrum Hill’s post, I really wish that they’d left some of the deer alive on the mountain. I would so love to go and just sit near them and observe them…

Ahh…. nostalgia….


News reports:

4 thoughts on “Remembering the fallow deer of Rhodes Memorial

    • Hi Robynn –
      Amazing, isn’t it? So many people of our age (err….hm…) who grew up in Cape Town must share those memories too… I wish I’d known about photography at the time. I also wish I’d been more aware that things would not stay the same for ever. D’you know what I mean?
      I hope you’re having a good weekend.

  1. If similar cullings of non-native species were to take place here in Nova Scotia, Canada, I wonder what we’d lose… to begin with, certainly all the beautiful Ring-necked Pheasants that wander through our woods (they were imported from China in the 1800s).

    Great Britain is presently weighing different means of controlling the Grey Squirrel population (American natives introduced in the 1800s as a novelty) which is a serious threat to their native Red Squirrels. A massive killing-off of the Grey darlings would certainly cause an uproar.

    Wildlife management sure seems to be an area wrought by controversy. I am all for allowing native species to thrive, but at what cost?

    Reggie, many thanks for providing a link to my post on Deer Gazing. I do believe that, whether they are native or introduced, living closely and at peace with animals is a key to our well-being on this planet.

    • Hi Amy-Lynn

      Oh you’re very welcome – I so hope more people read your beautiful blog!

      And yes, I agree with you – wildlife management is definitely fraught with difficulties, and contradictions. I mean, how far back does one go in history… Strictly speaking, much of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is world-famous for its incredible range of species from various floral kingdoms, would surely have to be classified as alien and exotic too. But if all those beautiful, ancient trees were to be chopped down simply because they are not indigenous, that would be a national disaster.

      With regard to the pine plantations along the eastern slopes of the Table Mountain range from Devil’s Peak to Constantia Nek, I am in two minds. On the one hand, these trees provide welcome shade on our hot summer days, and our city desperately needs far more trees (a green lung) to counteract the awful air pollution. On the other hand, nothing else grows underneath these tall pine trees… certainly not the indigenous fynbos. In addition, the pine trees and blue gums are highly flammable, even more so when it is hot, dry and windy, and we have at least a couple of fires every summer (usually caused by idiots who throw burning cigarettes out of car windows, but also on occasion lit deliberately).

      And the Cape mountain fynbos is unique! Even though I’ve lived here all my life, I know so little about it, but the whole field of study is VAST. And as it grows nowhere else in the whole world, except here, I do agree that it has to be nurtured and encouraged to recover.

      But the deer and the tahrs… perhaps because they are such beautiful creatures, their wholesale slaughter really does make my heart ache with grief.

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