We are on our way to a farm in Swanieville. The dusty road meanders towards the entrance to the farm and Cora Bailey, Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Dog & Cat Project in Johannesburg, navigates her way around a herd of cows.
A mother and calf stand in the entrance of the farm gates, the little one not quite sure what kind of "beast" is standing before him.
As we enter the gates the owner of the farm approaches us and warm greetings are exchanged all around. Cora spends time chatting to him about the farm and the difficulties and challenges he is experiencing. He is worried about some squatters who are living in close proximity to his farm and is concerned for the security of his land and cattle, who will be left without any grazing land if more squatters join the others.
He strikes me as a man who is earnestly trying to make an honest living under very difficult circumstances and yet, even with no financial assistance and with the little money, the animals on his farm are well taken care of, with enough food being provided to compensate for the lack of grass available on the highveld at this time of year.
But only a stone's throw away down the road, there is a completely different picture, a much more somber one.
Cora wants to pay a visit to check on the welfare of livestock there. A few weeks back the IFAW team visited the farm, vaccinating all the livestock against rabies. At the time they removed a mother sheep and her lamb due to neglect and starvation and issued a warning to the farmer to improve the conditions on the farm and ensure more food is provided for them. The mother died the next day from starvation.
We reach the farm and take a slow walk around the enclosures. A disturbing sight greets us at every enclosure. The stark reality of the cruelty and neglect is overwhelming. Cora chats to a young man, a casual labourer, working on the farm and asks him about the food for the animals.
He walks us towards a metal box close to where a group of birds are being kept, as he opens it we all take a step back as the stench of rotten meat escapes from the lid.
I start taking photos....four young dogs, one or two of them puppies, are being kept in a 2m x 1m enclosure, they have no water and the only food in a dirty, rusty dish is rotten.
They reach up towards us as we peer into the enclosure, almost pleading for help, asking us to remove them from their life of misery.
A little further away, a cow and some calves are closed up in a kraal, their pelvic and rib bones protrude from their sides. There is no feed available for them and no fresh water. The pigs, a mother and piglets and some adults are in the same circumstances. Rotten chicken carcasses are piled high close by, the only source of food being used to feed the animals, including the dogs.
On the way out of Swanieville Cora puts in a call to the local animal welfare authorities. It’s a frustrating call to say the least, with shallow promises from their side to meet the farmer and judge the conditions of the animals for themselves. A few hours later, we return to the farm with a vet who agrees that the welfare of all the animals are compromised and says she does not think the calves will live for much longer.
Cora is going to continue monitoring the conditions on the farm and that of the animals on a regular basis to ensure that their welfare is not further compromised and will keep in close contact with both local welfare societies as well. Will do our best to update you on their situations as we can.