Caring for the endangered

Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area manager, Sabelo Memani, works in the background to protect plant and animal species at the site.

Kenilworth Racecourse is surrounded by a sea of urban sprawl but it harbours a unique ecological sanctuary, one protected by Sabelo Memani.

Mr Memani is the manager of the Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area, which is a refuge for Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, hundreds of indigenous plant species, 11 amphibians, 17 reptiles, 80 birds and at least 10 mammals. Several of plant and animals species are listed as endangered.

Mr Memani, has worked at the racecourse for five years.

“I first started here as a student volunteer in 2012, studying for a diploma in nature conservation at CPUT, and I heard about the amazing biodiversity they have here at Kenilworth Racecourse, so I thought that it would be the perfect place to learn.

“Apparently I impressed during the first four months of volunteering, and the manager then asked the City to accept me as the working integrated learning student in 2013. I got my diploma, and I worked at the racecourse as a supervisor at the time.

“My love for the environment was stimulated when I was young. I grew up in a village in the Eastern Cape called Mtshanyane, I use to herd cattle and sheep,” said Mr Memani.

He and his friends would spot frogs, locusts and birds while playing together.

“We used to hunt and eat, mostly birds and rabbits, and fish, using locust and frogs as bait. There was no association with love for nature and appreciating it, but it was a way we found out how to use it to sustain ourselves as boys when we’re out there hungry.

“When I grew up, my father bought DSTv and I watched National Geographic, and I was intrigued by these things, and my understanding about conservation was improving. It was something I wanted to do for fun, not as a career,” said Mr Memani.

Longing to travel to Cape Town but with no money to get there, he secretly dug up potatoes in his home garden and sold them for travelling money.

The Cape Town Environmental Education Trust funded his studies in botany and biochemistry and he has been working for them at Kenilworth Racecourse since.

The site, which is managed by the trust, is home to some 310 plant species, of which 39 are threatened with extinction.

Two flagship species, erica margaritacea and the isolepis bulbifera, can only be found on the racecourse, but the latter has not been seen for a while.

Mr Memani and his team run regular environmental education programmes for schools and the public.