World of Birds owner Walter Mangold is determined that it will be “business as usual” at the popular Hout Bay attraction, despite the events of last weekend which saw the affable 81-year-old tied up and robbed of an estimated R70 000.
The brazen robbery by two men posing as tourists just after 4pm on Sunday December 9 dealt a crippling blow to World of Birds, which has been struggling to keep its doors open amid rising costs and an avian flu outbreak.
It is the first such incident in the sanctuary’s 45-year history.
Generous cash donations from supporters ensured the facility could remain open until the lucrative summer months.
In an ironic twist of fate, Mr Mangold had just placed cash in his safe when the robbers entry his office.
Financially, it was World of Birds’ best weekend in six months.
“These guys paid the entrance fee like any other tourist. They walked through the aviaries and one of our staff even assisted them with explanations in the monkey jungle. They were taking selfies, acting like any normal tourists,” Mr Mangold, still sporting bruises on his wrists, said.
He said it was normal procedure that a day’s cash earnings were taken from the front kiosk to the cafeteria. Cash was then placed in black security bags and then taken to his office, at the back of the property.
“Hendrik (Louw), our park manager, had already put Saturday’s takings in the safe, so I placed the money on the shelf above. I then locked the safe as I always do and went to my desk to read something. The door to my office was open, as it always is.”
When he next looked up, he saw two men standing in front of him, “one taller than the other”.
“They then jumped at me, knocking me and my chair onto the floor. One of them put an arm around my neck, choking me. My face was against the tiles on the floor. As I was on the floor, I was telling them in Xhosa that they didn’t need to hurt me and I would give them the key.”
The robbers found the safe key in Mr Mangold’s pocket, and immediately went to the safe.
“There are three laptops in the safe, but they didn’t want these. All they wanted was the money, so it was clear to me that they were well-informed. They then took the black security bags from the safe.”
With the door only slightly ajar, the men once again turned their attention to Mr Mangold, fearing he would shout for help.
“They then cut the cords of the phones and used them to tie my hands and my feet as I was lying face-down. They wanted to stuff a blanket in my mouth, but I asked them not to do this. They then left, and just walked casually towards the exit and out the park.”
As he was still tied up, Mr Mangold was unable to turn himself over at first. When he eventually managed to do this, his only available course of action was to use his elbows to inch himself towards the door. “It was very painful.”
Eventually a group of five foreign tourists heard his cries and untied him. At that time there were still more than 50 visitors in the park.
“I couldn’t use the phones because they had obviously been cut, so I had to run down to the entrance to call the emergency services.”
After his ordeal, which he estimated to last no longer than 15 minutes, Mr Mangold noticed a map of the park on his desk. “That wasn’t there before, so it was obvious that these guys were carrying it around with them.”
Mr Mangold suspects that the robbery was an inside job, as the suspects were extremely deliberate in their actions. Management has decided to conduct polygraph tests of those working at the time of the robbery.
“A witness saw one of these guys speaking on his cellphone near the monkey jungle before the robbery,” he added.
In the wake of the robbery, World of Birds will be reassessing and overhauling its entire security system.
Although the centre had not experienced a robbery of this nature before, Mr Mangold always feared such an incident could happen, particularly over the festive season when gate takings were higher.
“I am just incredibly grateful that I wasn’t stabbed or something worse happened. I am more emotionally scarred by what happened.”
In a bid to save World of Birds, staff have been employed on short time for several months and a prime piece of land under its ownership has gone on the market.
“Our overheads have gone up astronomically. Our wage bill is R400 000, our feeds are R150 000 a month, our electricity is R30 000 a month and our water is R50 000. We were very fortunate in June.
“A family from Monaco which visits every October sent us a R500 000 donation. The Astral Food Company has donated R100 000 for feed every month.
“We also had two R10 000 donations from overseas and a R10 000 donation locally. We also raised R100 000 from our BackaBuddy (crowdfunding platform) campaign in June/July.
“One woman, a long-time supporter, even left R150 000 to World of Birds in her will, but given the urgency of the looming financial crisis, freed up the money to be used immediately.
“World of Birds is one of the most important nature-related activities in Cape Town. Hout Bay can never afford to lose World of Birds. That’s why we will be carrying on, for locals and the people who come from all over the world to see us.”
Police spokesperson, Warrant Officer Tanya Lesch said no arrests had been made as yet.
“A case of business robbery was opened. Anyone with information must please contact Hout Bay SAPS.”
The BackaBuddy campaign can be found at https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/world-of-birds-wildlife-sanctuary-campaign.