Strolling through the sights, sounds and smells of nature brings benefits—lower stress hormones, better immune response, lower blood pressure, and improved psychological state. These are unlikely responses for a nature reveller constantly fingering a canister of pepper spray and looking over their shoulder.
While Cape Town boasts some of the world’s most beautiful urban nature areas, a spate of high profile attacks and armed muggings have many reconsidering their nature outings. Half of Western Cape residents report being afraid to visit parks and urban nature areas for fear of crime. These negative feelings threaten public support for urban conservation. Our city has more threatened plants than all but six other countries. Even so, a vicious argument and legal battle rages over what to do with the remnants of an invasive pine plantation in Lower Tokai Park. It should be restored to a critically endangered vegetation type called Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, of which a tiny fraction remains. But many park users feel that fynbos, the woolly, native vegetation, is too easy for would-be attackers to hide in, a position solidified by the horrific murder of a teenager in the park in 2016. In short, fear is shaping conservation priorities. These photographs highlight the beauty and serenity of parks in and around Cape Town, but each has a sinister element—a person hiding amid the magnificence, threatening discord in an otherwise harmonious scene.