Raccoon and Baboon: Not so different

On a recent trip to Toronto it dawned on me that the Raccoon is to Toronto what the Baboon is to Cape Town. Though smaller, some say cuter, and found in much larger numbers, the raccoon is at the centre of animal-human conflict in Toronto much the same way as the baboon in Cape Town. Rummaging through dustbins and spilling their contents, getting into garages and even houses raccoons and baboons seem like they collaborated on their plan to inconvenience their urban neighbour.

Opposable thumb or not, both raccoons and baboons have made themselves the waste-menaces of their respective cities. In Toronto raccoons raid bins at night and move into attics and basements when nobody is looking. The small bandits move in groups and are ingenious at getting into waste receptacles where easy rewards can be found. Cape Town’s baboons play by the same rule book but with the addition of a nimble first digit and distinct size advantage perhaps baboons have the upper hand. The clever primates get into waste like it was placed on the curb just for them. Both animals search out human waste to meet their nutritional needs without having to look for food the hard way. It is so much easier to look in your bin for the wealth of food we humans throw away as opposed to tirelessly searching for edible vegetation. How many of us opt for fast food? It’s quite obvious really.

So what does Toronto understand that Cape Town has yet to grasp? It’s a waste problem, not an animal one. Toronto, as part of its extensive waste management programme, has taken both logistical, legal and educational steps to manage their humans. Yes, that’s right, the humans and not the raccoons. The truth of the matter is the raccoons are only a problem because humans fail to manage their waste. Through the city-wide provision of raccoon-proof bins for organic waste the cunning nocturnal raiding antics of the sly raccoons have been effectively foiled.

Granted, baboons are a little larger and their teeth are a little scarier, but meet a raccoon at night and I bet you will be running in the opposite direction. Baboons have the same modus operandi, they help themselves to the food waste we make available in our wheelie bins. The City of Cape Town has provided baboon-proof bins to many residents in areas frequented by baboons but there are many more homes who still do not have them. Furthermore, though the bins are meant to be baboon proof the baboons have figured a way around the gravity lock. With their primate dexterity they are one up on their trans-Atlantic friends making the most of incorrectly closed bins and an design that needs to be revisited.

Photo Credit: www.brettcolephotography.com – Garbage on Brett Cole

It is clear that Cape Town lags a step or three behind Toronto in their waste management. Sure, the budget is bigger, the infrastructure better, but regardless, Toronto does one simple thing that Cape Town does not do: they comprehensively manage their organic waste. Yes, the City of Toronto collects organic waste as part of their recycling programme, but it is even more basic than that. Toronto communicates, has legislated and enforces proper waste management. It is not acceptable to put organic waste in a wheelie bin that is not raccoon-proof. If incorrectly packaged your waste will not be collected and a meaningful fine can be issued.

The City of Cape Town has not yet realised that it is not about the baboons, well not most of the time anyway. Though baboons may be a little more mischievous than raccoons it is more about managing the waste than it is about chasing the baboons up into the mountains. There is definitely a place for Baboon Monitors on our urban edge but there is a greater need for effective management of organic waste and enforcement of meaningful waste by-laws.

Raccoons and baboons will always look for easy food, that is not going to change. What we need to realise in Cape Town, and throughout Southern Africa, is that it is not just about what baboons do but also, maybe even more, about what we do.

It is time for the City of Cape Town to step forward and set an example for other primate-human conflict areas.
It’s time we all look at our own behaviour first and foremost and manage our natural environment from there.