Celebrating the Friends of Park Island

For many residents, one of the highlights of living in the Marina is the Park Island nature reserve. Responsibility for managing this priceless natural asset lies with the City of Cape Town (CoCT) via Kyran Wright and his team at the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve (ZENR). But that’s only half the story.

In 1999, a group still known as the Friends of Park Island (FoPI) was set up to help facilitate the sanctuary’s rehabilitation in partnership with the CoCT and ZENR. Since then, FoPI has made a massive contribution to our community and its environment. For over two decades, Cherry Giljam, Pam Hepple and their support team have spent countless hours and endless energy helping to maintain, nurture and improve the island’s flora, fauna and infrastructure.

The least we could do in return is devote this edition of our newsletter to spotlighting the incredible work this unique community project does on behalf of visitors inside and outside the Marina.

The timing seems fitting. As Cherry Giljam explains, FoPI has ensured some tough challenges lately. “Between Christmas and New Year, our storeroom was broken into and our most valuable equipment stolen. Just this week, someone who clearly cannot read or disregards official signage tore down the security pedestrian gate leading onto the island!”

Despite these setbacks, work continues. In 2021, Ward 64 Councillor Aimee Kuhl dedicated her entire ward budget to ZENR. Among other items, this enabled the ZENR management to produce the much-needed new signage for the entire Zandvlei Estuary reserve, including Park Island. The FoPI had been waiting 15 years for this.

In addition, Park Island scored a contribution towards constructing the very necessary west shore boardwalk, which is still to be completed; and enclosing the designated free dog running area, which is ZENR’s solution to maintaining boundaries between the island’s indigenous wildlife and domestic animals.

Looking ahead, FoPI’s workload is only going to increase. As the CoCT’s resources become increasingly limited, the group has inherited many more commitments involving ongoing maintenance and project development These include employing its own labour with its own equipment/resources.

The steps between concept and completion are complex and FoPI must keep fundraising to complete its work. But as Cherry adds: “We will make it happen. Maybe not within the predicted timeframes, but we know we can count on your support, encouragement, comments and advice. Thanking you.”

How much is Park Island worth to you?

FoPI is appealing to you to contribute towards Park Island’s maintenance. Any contribution you make qualifies you to become a Friends of Park Island Insider. As such, you will receive a beautifully produced and written seasonal electronic newsletter, with updates on FoPI’s current activities and regular features on the plants and animals that inhabit the island.

You can make your donations using the following bank details:

Account name The Friends of Park Island
Bank Capitec
Branch code 470 010
Account number 1467 475 988
Reference Your name

Meanwhile, you can also find regular updates on the Friends of Park Island Facebook pages.

What exactly does FoPI do?

Different seasons involve different activities, but all year round the FoPI is undertakes the following tasks:

  • Designing and enhancing specific areas, such as the labyrinth, bird garden and entrance garden by adding appropriate plants each year
  • Maintaining the island’s variable garden/tree areas
  • Planting out new areas, introducing new species
  • Pruning, trimming dead wood and weed
  • Hand-watering vulnerable plants until they are established
  • Eradicating alien vegetation
  • Maintaining pathways by strimming and cutting back encroaching vegetation while covering pathways with protective vegetative material to deter mole activity and retain a stable walking surface. Chipping is the group’s preferred surface, but it is expensive and difficult to obtain.
  • Buying and maintaining necessary equipment, including protective clothing and food/drink for the maintenance team
  • Maintaining built infrastructure such as the storeroom, benches, boardwalks, pedestrian bridges, bird hide etc., with occasional assistance from ZENR
  • Maintaining the noticeboard and Facebook page, creating and managing seasonal content
  • Picking up litter by hand and bagging it before asking ZENR to remove the bags
  • Additional litter clearing, including organising an annual community clean-up event.

FoPI also Initiates projects designed to enhance the island. This work involves assessing what new vegetation/infrastructure would benefit the island’s users, drawing up proposals/quotes and then applying for the necessary funding. If FoPI is fortunate enough to be awarded the finance, it then manages the project with the knowledge, agreement and some assistance from ZENR.

To date, the Rowland and Leta Hill Trust has financed all FoPI’s infrastructure projects, including the pedestrian bridges, the bird hide, the boardwalks and, in 2013, the erosion hardening project along the western shore.

Since 1999, most of the plants we enjoy on Park Island have been purchased and, very often, personally planted by a member of our community. Says Cherry: “I think you will agree that there can be few better investments that will hopefully be respected and enjoyed for generations to come. A lasting legacy!”

Water, water everywhere…

The very hot, dry weather we are currently experiencing has raised an important question: Without fresh water, how do animals survive on Park Island?

Animals commonly found on Park Island include Cape Grysbok, Cape Porcupine, Cape Mole-rat, Grey Mongoose, Water Mongoose and the Angulate Tortoise. All these prefer the type of Strandveld vegetation FoPI has planted on the island, close to the coast where plant communities are more palatable and less likely to burn than mountain fynbos.

Eggs or young are born underground or in dense brush cover. The vegetation, including a wide selection of bulbs, contain sufficient moisture to sustain them, although they will enjoy the occasional rain shower or coastal misty morning.

Tortoises will seldom drink from a stream and will only dispose of bodily fluids when they can be certain of replacing them. However, their survival strategy of urinating when picked up could lead to their death if they are unable to replenish that lost fluid. Many animals also rely on fish, carrion, eggs and so on, which also contain moisture. The first rain of the season is also welcomed by most animals.

Please note: many bird species and the Grey Mongoose do enjoy fresh water, so please keep your garden bird bath filled up.

Help! There’s an otter at the end of the jetty

The Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensi)has long been a Zandvlei resident.

In the days of the Boardsail Inn, the family who managed and lived at the venue reported that an otter family had set up a coven in the densely vegetated spit of land that separated their pool of water from the estuary mouth.

Many Marina residents also have their own otter tales to tell. “When we had dogs, we were repeatedly visited by an otter family comprising mum, dad, two teenagers and two pups, who would taunt our dogs before marking their territory on our lawn,” recalls Cherry. “When teenage otters are expelled to go and fend for themselves, they are often seen in and around the Marina in the daylight, clearly looking for new territory and possibly a mate! Their territory can range from the beach 5km upstream to estuaries, rivers and streams.”

In 2012, Nicola Okes, a PhD student at UCT, studied the spatial ecology and pollution burden of Cape Clawless Otters in the Cape Peninsula. After three years, she published and presented her incredible research. Her findings are too long to relate here, but these beautiful creatures have learned to adapt to live in an increasingly urban environment although pollution and dwindling food sources compromise their existence. As Cherry says: “Their main meal is crab, and if you check the vast number of juvenile crabs being scooped up in the algae by the Kingfisher right now, you have to wonder what their diet will now comprise of.”

Out of interest, all Nicola’s evidence showed that otters see dogs – especially dark-coloured dogs that are the same size as them – as competition for territory. They either harass the dogs and/or leave their ‘calling card’ in the form of a midden. Otters have also been known to attack dogs, but only when provoked.

They usually traverse our waterways in the early hours of the morning but are seldom seen during the day, so a daylight otter sighting is a rare treat.

  • Please report any otter sightings to Kyran Wright at the ZENR.

All about the wild dagga plant and its various uses

Leonotis leonurus Wilde dagga/Wild dagga /Umfincafincane: Standing 2-5 metre high, this shrub has a thick woody base and all parts of the plant have a strong smell. The leaves grow opposite each other on the stems, long and narrow, toothed in the upper half and distinctly hairy. Bright orange tubular flowers are borne in characteristic rounded groups, neatly arranged on the branch ends. The hairy flowers resemble lions’ ears, hence the name ‘leonurus’.


Look out for these beautiful plants in the entrance garden on Park Island and try growing them in your own garden. The flowers/nectar are very attractive to birds, especially sunbirds and bees. They do well in the sandy soil of the Marina and there is also a white flowering variety.

Medicinal uses: Numerous traditional uses have been recorded. The leaves or roots are widely used as a remedy for snake bites and also to treat other bites and stings. Externally, decoctions have been applied to treat boils, eczema, skin diseases, itching and muscular cramps. Internally, decoctions are used for coughs, colds, influenza, bronchitis and also high blood pressure and headaches. Leaf infusions have been used for asthma and viral hepatitis.

It is said that the Nama people smoked the leaves and used the powdered leaf to make small cakes, which were chewed or eaten.

Active ingredients: leonotis species contain a volatile oil and marrubin, an unusual diterpenoid.

Photos: Cherry Giljam

Interested in knowing more about night counts?

It was a cold and windy night when the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserves (ZENR) held its last quarterly night count on 20 September. Despite the conditions, however, it still turned out to be time well spent.

Among other discoveries, the conservation team counted three porcupines and a spotted eagle. They also saw three grysbok on Park Island and the resident population appears to be in good health.

Many residents have asked to join ZENR’s regular night counts.  This sounds like a wonderful idea and, in fact, it has been tried before. However, the counting team discovered that residents were particularly keen to ask questions about the night life they were seeing. Understandable, of course. But their curiosity made it difficult for team members to move quietly.

Even so, Kyran Wright, who manages ZENR, is open to the idea of holding an informal community event that would give residents a chance to ask questions and learn more about why ZENR’s night counts are so important. The feeling is that we should wait until the weather gets a bit warmer. So, if you’re interested, watch this space for more details.

Pampering Park Island for the summer

A lot has been happening in the parks and gardens of Marina da Gama. On Park Island, the team has been working hard! Your Park Island garden representative, Silvia Stringer, received a bakkie load of mulch on Tuesday and spent an entire day mulching the flower beds. They look awesome and are now ready for the summer sunshine. Silvia might need a massage following all that heavy lifting!

Our pleas to Eugene Rayners, Parks and Recreation for the City of Cape Town (CoCT), were heard and you will see the brand new and improved seesaw in the kids play park. Thanks very much to Eugene!

Kondwani from the gardening team spent the day pressure hosing a long neglected public wall in Park Island. Residents rallied to assist and painting will continue on Sunday.

This month’s flora and fauna update

No creature can survive without a supportive habitat that will provide both food and shelter. Park Island and the Cape Flats are the perfect habitat for the Cape Dune Mole-rat so I guess we should not be surprised that its most ardent predator is the Mole Snake [Pseudaspis cana]

The Mole Snake is a misunderstood snake, often confused with the venomous Black Mamba or the Cape Cobra. In fact, it is not a danger to humans at all, although it could bite if provoked. It varies tremendously in colour from nearly black to light brown, so look for its small head and pointed snout. It also enjoys sunbathing. Sadly, this useful snake is often mistakenly identified and killed on sight.


Its preferred habitat is sandy scrubland/dunes. It is a powerful constrictor with a pointed head that is well adapted for its burrowing existence. It spends most of its time underground in search of food, typically moles and other rodents. It has been known to take birds, eggs and nestlings. Juveniles feed largely on lizards. Its prey is seized by the head and constricted.

Adult males are known to engage in combat during the mating season, but otherwise they are generally solitary and viviparous, giving birth to an average 25-50 young in late summer. The newborn snakes measure 20-30cm in length.

The Mole Snake pictured here was discovered idling over the Park Island road bridge a few weeks ago. Despite some efforts to relocate it into the nearby bush, it was determined to continue unhurried under the gate and into suburbia!

Cape Mole-rat (Georychus capensis) I have featured these animals, the largest of all moles, before. But after having the opportunity to photograph the Mole Snake, last week I came across this Cape Mole-rat above ground, displaying this interesting behaviour. I’m not sure whether it was lining a nursery burrow or storing fodder for the winter. While they destroy many a gardener’s joy, I can’t help being curious about them.

They have soft fur, cinnamon to pale fawn underparts, short tails, rounded heads, well developed prominent incisors and tiny ears and eyes. This species is distinguished from the others by black and white head markings.

They display fossorial or burrowing behaviour, digging extensive underground burrow systems marked on the surface by mounds of sand. They dig using their well developed incisors, then use their feet to shovel loosened earth out of the way. Most digging follows rain. Within burrow systems, there are usually chambers that serve for food storage. Activity patterns do not seem to be tied to day or night but active and resting periods are spread through 24 hours. They are vegetarian, eating mostly roots, bulbs and tubers. They are considered a pest by gardeners, farmers and in urban areas damaging roads, runways and golf courses to mention just a few.

While the majority of Mole-rats live in colonies, the Cape Mole-rats are solitary burrow dwellers, only coming together to mate. They are seasonal breeders, producing 4-10 pups per litter after approximately 55 days of gestation. On average, they live for around three years, during which time they typically grow to a weight of 650-890g but can grow as big as 2kg. The larger the animal and larger its mounds.

Judging by the very large population residing on Park Island, we need more Mole Snakes!

Photos: Cherry Giljam