Did the truck just flatten the cormorant?
No… but it was close…
A car speeds along the N1 and misses the anxious bird by mere millimetres.
Two people look on helplessly.
This was the scene that unfolded several times on the N1 at Paarden Eiland on Monday last week.
Two Sanccob volunteers tried to rescue an injured cormorant from being hit by a vehicle before it fled and nearly got hit by a vehicle.
It settled down again on the other side of the concrete barriers dividing incoming and outgoing traffic.
The two volunteers then had to get into their own car, drive to the nearest exit and then back along the highway to where the bird was cowering.
They then tried to rescue the injured cormorant from being hit by a vehicle before it fled and nearly got hit by another passing vehicle.
This happened so many times that Ted van der Meulen and Edna Hime from Seapoint stopped counting.
In a classic example of Murphy’s Law, their pursuit of the injured bird was complicated by rush hour traffic.
The bird was eventually caught, taken to Table View’s Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds’ (Sanccob) headquarters, and has since recovered from its harrowing ordeal.
Sanccob has since declared that Ted and Edna are heroes and deserve medals for their courage, but for these passionate bird-lovers, the story of how they managed to save a cormorant along the N1 highway will live with them forever.
“Ted has rescued many birds before and has faced many dangerous situations, but this one was particularly frightening,” says Edna.
“I’m used to traffic, but that day I was actually threatened by it. We were incredibly lucky to catch the bird before it was squashed. For me the scariest part was when Ted leant over the concrete barrier with passing trucks literally shaking the ground,” she says, before pointing out that the danger her life partner was facing trumped that of the bird.
The adventure began while the two were still in bed and the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a friend who informed them of an injured coastal bird on the highway.
They decided to rush to the bird’s rescue, a mission they had embarked on many times before.
The outgoing traffic was manageable, but as people living in the north and travelling towards the city know, incoming traffic is always a nightmare during rush hour.
When they arrived, the bird was sitting on the concrete barrier, right opposite Paarden Eiland.
In order to find a safe place to park, the two had to drive past it, take the Koeberg turnoff and come back on the N1.
Ted made his first attempt to catch the bird in a large net and failed.
It half-flew-half-ran across the incoming lane and somehow managed to make it to the other side.
Edna admits that she had to close her eyes a couple of times as it looked certain that the cormorant would not make it.
Every time the two failed to catch the bird it fled to the other side of the barrier, which meant every time they had to get in their car and take a highway exit further up the road.
Since the bird was already injured by the time Ted and Edna arrived, (Sanccob reckons it must’ve been hit by a vehicle earlier), it was distraught.
Decades of experience at rescuing birds compelled Ted to wait a while before he attempted to catch it again.
“You get to know how birds react to certain things,” says Ted.
“It was startled by everything and looked at every car and truck that sped past, every person walking on the other side of the road. I knew it would have calmed down later, so we waited.”
Ted and Edna hid behind the car while the terrified cormorant’s heartbeat slowed down.
Eventually, after about 25 minutes, it looked away at a group of people and Ted knew that was the moment to make his move.
He was approximately four metres away from the bird when he gave two or three giant strides with the net rushing through the air.
This time the bird was trapped before it could have another near-death experience.
Ted and Edna put it in a box and then the peaceful darkness enveloped the fretful bird.
Once at Sanccob’s headquarters, it was determined that the white-breasted juvenile cormorant was in a very weak state.
Upon closer inspection by the veterinarian team, it was identified that the bird had a bruised chest, blood on his beak and was most likely hit by a car. As a result, he was put on a drip, given antibiotics and vitamins, and allowed to rest under the watchful eye of the bird rehabilitation staff in the Intensive Care Unit.
The next day he was apparently feeding well and already standing upright.
Francois Louw, spokesperson for Sanccob, says the juvenile cormorant will hopefully soon be released into the wild thanks to Ted’s bravery.
In thanking Ted and Edna, Sanccob Executive Director Dr Stephen van der Spuy said: “If there is a medal for bravery for saving seabirds then Ted surely deserves it.”