At the start of August this year, a new management strategy was started that will hopefully safe many of the Cape Peninsula baboons from being euthanised. Past baboon management came under heavy scrutiny by the Kenya-based, American expert on primates, Professor Shirley Strum. She made the controversial statement that “Cape Peninsula baboons had become uncontrollable, because of the extreme position of activists, who had thwarted scientific solutions to the conflict between the apes and humans”.
The baboons on the Cape Peninsula have slowly but surely lost all fear for humans. They have learned to associate people (residents & visitors), cars, and houses with food, leading to unnatural behaviour. Merlin of the Smitswinkel troop e.g. is known to approach a dozen of fishermen without hesitation on a mission for an easy meal.
Many males, and juveniles who follow suit, are known to raid people’s houses, open fridges and cupboards, and get away with anything edible. We have experienced baboon visits and before you know it they have taken off with you sugar bowl or lunch. This raiding often leads to aggressive behaviour and sadly some of the (sub-)alpha males had to be euthanised as a result – see also our blog post on the Sad Demise of Fred the Baboon. The latest victim has been Peter from the Da Gama troop, a real character and unfortunately prolific raider, how was euthanised this month.
So what steps are undertaken to reduce the human-baboon conflict? Residents are asked to padlock their bins and baboon proof their houses and veggie patches in an attempt to keep the troops out of the residential areas. Although we have a joint responsibility, this has been received with mixed feelings from the local residents. Despite the baboon monitoring scheme, the raiding continued and irate residents have been known to harm and even kills baboons. Needless to say that this is not for a lack of trying from the baboon monitors, but a troop of 20 baboons invading a built up area and having no tools to use, a baboon monitor’s hands are tied.
This has led to an unacceptable situation, where the Da Gama troop e.g. would be allowed to sleep on the roof tops of Navy flats. The softly softly management approach was obviously not working. Now paintball guns, pepper sprays and bear bangers are used to permanently drive the baboons out of the urban areas. Paintballs are inflicting pain that will be associated with people, instead of food. Pepper spray will be used as a scent marker, associating pepper spray with paintballs and pain, which will hopefully make the baboon back off. The loud noise of the bear bangers is used away from the urban areas to keep them in their natural habitat.
These techniques have been used successfully in other areas, so hopefully they will still work on our extremely habituated baboons. If not, the future of these handsome, intelligent and funny creatures could be pretty bleak.
Your role as a visitor
You as a visitor to this beautiful part of the world can play a vital part in the survival of the Cape Peninsula baboons. It’s easy!
Never feed baboons and do not eat in front of a troop of baboons, even if your tour guide insists. Yes, I have witnessed a group of tourists being given their packed lunches in a car park in Cape Point National Park with part of the Buffels Bay troop strolling around and snatching sandwiches and bananas out of oblivious tourists’ hands. Stand up to your unprofessional guide and tell him/her that you will not contribute to death sentencing another baboon.
Try and keep bags away from baboons, they associate bags with food. If a baboon grabs your bag, let them go. They will rummage through your bag in search for food and leave all other items behind. I spoke to an Italian girl, whose bag was snatched by a baboon. Although mortified, as the whole content of her bags was on display to the world, she did get all her valuables back, including her passport
When you self-drive keep your doors and windows locked. They have learned to open car doors and even join you in the search for food, which obviously scares the hell out of most people.
These new baboon signs say it all. Although entertaining to watch, baboons are dangerous wild animals! DO NOT FEED baboons, which is an offense and you can be fined, and keep your doors locked and windows closed when baboon are in the area.