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What has happened to FreeMe?

On 10 November 2015, for the first time since its inception, FreeMe closed its doors to rescued wildlife. Before its closure over 10,000 cases a year came to the specialized care and attention of FreeMe.

NSPCA Media Statement

The National Council of SPCA’s released the following statement about the temporary closure of FreeMe:


FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre located in Paulshof will be temporary closing its doors for intakes of ‘wild patients’, for the first time since establishment in 1997.

Recent staff changes, followed by a number of events and incidents that occurred at the centre, called for numerous inspections and meetings by the National Council of SPCA (NSPCA) and Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD). The NSPCA was suddenly overwhelmed by concerns and unhappiness expressed by volunteers and staff regarding the day to day operational side of the centre, changes being implemented, care being provided or the lack thereof and the management of cases.

The operational permit of FreeMe has become invalid and Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) closed the centre and called a halt to operations until such time as new proposals and applications have been received and approved.

The temporary closure has forced this wildlife rehabilitation centre, probably the centre with the highest number of intakes in Gauteng, to ‘take stock’ and sort through numerous management and operational issues. The closure will last until all permit and related issues have been resolved.

Rehabilitation of animals must not be undertaken by just anyone; it requires specialist skills and experience to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, ultimately removed from the wild, back to their natural habitat in such physical conditions where they will be able to feed by themselves, hold territories, find mates and ultimately survive for the next generation. Too many wild animals end up permanently in cages as result of rehabilitation attempts by people with good intentions but who lack the experience. Anyone involved in rehabilitation of wild animals requires a permit in terms of the Conservation legislation.

The NSPCA is opposed to any degree of confinement which may cause distress or suffering and firmly believes that wild animals are wild and that’s where they belong.



Reaction from one of the original founders of FreeMe

FreeMe’s Founder, Merle Jankelowitz reacts to the closure:

Merle Jankelowitz founder FreeMe 1997, posted the following response to the NSPCA’s statement on Facebook:

I am beyond words!! As one of the founding members of FreeMe (long retired from wildlife rehabilitation) it leaves me devastated. We started FreeMe with our scruples in the right place; the welfare of the animals always came first. We abided by all the conservation rules, and followed all protocol there was simply no place for ego…. Funding was always a challenge however with the generous help of caring sponsors and the realization that there was a desperate need for wildlife rehabilitation in suburbia , we were able to succeed and had many successful releases, we were able to sustain our wildlife and manage the centre with the help of incredible volunteers, vets and school programmes. What has happened?…there has clearly been some form of mismanagement , not enough motivation and direction. The work… Yes! Is challenging …It is complete dedication and exhausting! With little or no financial reward… It cannot and should never be seen as “bunny hugging” the ultimate reward for any wildlife rehabber is the successful release of the animal.

THAT! is the ultimate reward!

While I am now an outsider with no knowledge of the situation I can only hope that the situation of FreeMe can be rectified. I retired from the Centre after 7 yrs with burn out and small children to care for…. however there was never a moment at that time that I worried about the scruples, dedication and care that the animals would receive with the staff that were present at that time.

I believe that there must be a clear reason for temporary closure and can only hope that this unfortunate situation can be rectified

FREEME is a very much needed wildlife Rehabilitation centre in Suburbia and animal territories are becoming extinct due to extensive development.

I hope and pray that the centre which has done so much good for so many years can be salvaged!

Merle Jankelowitz founder FreeMe 1997


What next?

The Friends of Free Wildlife worked tirelessly in the background to try and bring the situation to a close, they wanted the current board of FreeMe to step down, and were on hand with a replacement board that has extensive experience in wildlife rehabilitation. FreeMe was always been a community organization, run by community support and that is what the Friends of Free Wildlife wanted to restore.

This has not been achieved, after trying many avenues, legal and others, the FreeMe Board would not negotiate with FFW board members and FreeMe has been evicted from the Rietfontein Nature Reserve by Johannesburg City Parks.

The closure the treasured community wildlife centre has been a shock to many people.