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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on July 14, 1999 at 17:14:51:
SUNDAY TIMES (Rosebank-Johannesburg, S Africa) 04 April 99 Waiter, is that a Chameleon in my pinotage? University researchers in bold plan to settle reptile debate. (Bobby Jordan)
An innovative research project in the winelands is about to settle the debate about whether or not chameleons get squashed into South African wines.
A team of environmentalists from the University of Cape Town plan to conduct a "chameleon-count" on the 655ha Spier estate outside Stellenbosch. The count will form part of a detailed "environmental audit" at Spier - the first of its kind - initiated in February and expected to last about four months.
According to Professor Mark Swilling of the Spier strategic planning team, the study will reveal valuable information about the ecological impact of winemaking.
"As a result of the study we'll give quite a high priority to chameleons - obviously it's quite a sensitive issue," he said.
Many environmentalists believe chameleons are fond of the winelands habitat, but get squashed in their thousands by mechanical harvesters during the grape-picking season.
Most wine estate owners say chameleons tend to live outside the vineyards. They claim any chameleons shaken loose by mechanical harvesters are easily removed during "de-stalking" before the winemaking process.
The environmental project leader at Spier and senior consultant for UCT's Environmental Evaluation Unit, Lynton Burger, said much of the controversy over chameleons did not apply to the Spier estate because their grapes were still hand-picked. However, the research team would be in a good position to assess the number of chameleons living in vineyard areas.
"There are very different opinions out there. To my knowledge nobody has ever done a proper survey, so it will be interesting to see," Burger said.
Wine and Spirits Board spokesman Andries Tromp described the chameleon row as "a storm in a teacup". He said he'd investigated the matter and found no evidence of wide-scale chameleon slaughter.
"I love the little guys. This whole thing has been blown out of proportion," Tromp said.
Chameleons, insects and any other form of life were easily removed, he said, adding that the local wine industry was a world leader in the environmentally friendly production of wine.
By last month more than 99 percent of wine producers had committed themselves to an eco-friendly producers' agreement called the Integrated Production of Wine.
Said Tromp: "The scheme is the result of a decision made by the SA wine industry to formulate and implement those practices which have been applied during the past years and result in minimal disturbance of the environment when cultivating vineyards and making wine."
However, environmental activists said this week they had photographic proof of "bag-loads" of chameleons collected at wine cellars.
Five activists were arrested last month while protesting against the use of mechanical harvesters by chaining themselves to one on an estate outside Stellenbosch. They appeared in the Stellenbosch Magistrate's Court on March 23.
A spokesman for the group, Allan Tregenna, said yesterday they'd received support from a farmer in the area who had picked up 125 chameleons on 6ha of vineyard.
Tregenna complained about the indiscriminate way the estates used their mechanical harvesters - of which about 260 were in use around the country. He claimed each harvester did the work of about 200 workers.
"Grapes and everything from the vines goes straight into a pulping machine," Tregenna said.
"We're not saying the world will be a perfect place if they scrap mechanical harvesters, but it will be better for society and more people will have jobs.
"We've got to have some consideration for the environment - we can't just think about profit," Tregenna said.