Soaring after devastation. Knysna’s birds rise again


The Knysna fires were a disaster. They wrecked the community. Seven lives lost. Thousands of homes destroyed. As the efforts to rebuild began, Rozanne Fleet noticed how the familiar sounds of birds had disappeared from the trees. With their habitat ruined, they flocked to the bird feeders in her parents’ garden, fighting one another for nourishment. Fleet realised the flames affected even the smallest of creatures.

“The 2017 Knysna fires were devastating to all that inhabit the Garden Route,” Fleet says. “Not just people but the wildlife as well.” The fires razed 20 000 hectares of forest and fynbos, leaving birds with a frantic struggle to find their way back home. “Knowing that there were thousands of birds left without food and water and shelter just made me compelled to do something about it,” Fleet says. She contacted as many companies as possible to donate supplies to help. After one woman, Elaine Reed, provided over 400 bird feeders along with nectar bottles and nesting boxes, others were prompted to do the same. Fleet started a Facebook page calling on people to become “Feeder Guardians”, who could take care of the feeders and ensure they were always well stocked. Residents who suffered their own losses during the fires stepped up. As birds rallied around the feeders, they became a reason for people to rebuild their own lives. Even some who became depressed after the fires found themselves rejuvenated by the birds’ resilience.

By mid-spring, birds began to return to their land. Thanks to good rains and the massive undertaking of Knysna’s locals, their feathered neighbours could recover. While many may miss the sight of the birds in their homes, their revival is a symbol of strength, and a community’s healing. “It just goes to show the power of the South African people,” Fleet says, “and how they can really flock together.”