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.
5 Ways to Be a Responsible Tourist & Help Keep Wildlife Wild
The summer months are finally here in the Northern Hemisphere and many are feverishly planning out their next vacation. Whether traveling locally or abroad, the vast majority of tourists have one thing in common—an overwhelming desire to experience something new. What better way to quench this urge than to spend some time with wild animals? Unfortunately, these encounters can be harmful for wildlife and can even have deadly consequences.
Wildlife tourism accounts for 20 to 40 percent of all global tourism. Since 3.6 to 6 million people visit wildlife attractions each year, tourism is causing major disturbances to wildlife by modifying their behaviors, destroying their natural habitats, and by causing physiological changes in animals.
Given the rising number of species currently threatened or facing extinction, it is imperative that humans reduce their impact on the wild. Here are 5 ways you can support the conservation of animals and be a mindful tourist when visiting wildlife.
Don’t Feed the Wildlife
Disrupts natural behaviors – Wildlife are gradually losing their fear of humans, instead relying on them for food. Chacma baboons, primates found in South Africa, typically eat a diet rich in fruits, insects, grass, and seeds, but they have become accustomed to the human food tourists have been illegally feeding them. These interactions have caused baboons to seek out humans for food—snatching food straight from their hands and even rummaging through cars to find their next meal. Unfortunately, local authorities have begun killing the baboons instead of fining tourists.
Bad for their health – Although wild animals may appear to want the food you’re snacking on, it is never a good idea to feed wildlife—and in many cities it is actually illegal. Wild animals, especially babies, have a special diet that requires certain nutrients human food can’t provide. If a young animal eats human food, even a few times, its growth can be permanently stunted. Ingesting human food can also cause many other health problems for animals and can even lead to disease or death.
The simple act of littering has far-reaching consequences—harming wild animals through ingestion or injury, and by polluting their water and food supplies. Many animals, such as birds and crabs, have been known to get their heads or limbs stuck in soda cans and bottles. Plastic litter also poses a huge concern as animals mistake it for food and consume it—leading to intestinal blockages and even death. With nearly 9 billion tons of litter making its way to oceans each year, it is imperative that travelers manage their waste responsibility. Try carrying a reusable trash bag and travel lightly so as to minimize the amount of trash you generate.
Support Tourism That Doesn’t Exploit Animals
Don’t view animals in captivity – Riding an elephant and swimming with dolphins may seem like the chance of lifetime—but what are the consequences? Nearly 16,000 elephants, along with many other wondrous species, are being held in captivity in zoos, circuses, and other tourist attractions. Skip these deplorable attractions and visit a national park to see these animals in their natural habitats.
Don’t partake in photo sessions with wildlife– Although a close encounter with a wild animal may make a perfect photo opportunity, you shouldn’t visit wildlife attractions that use wild animals as photo props. Not only are many animals drugged in order to reduce their chances of hostility, they are also chained and restricted to living in tiny enclosures. Animals are also removed from their mothers at a young age and are repeatedly beaten into submission.
Wear Nontoxic Products
Tourists unhappy with sunburns and bug bites are turning to sunscreen and bug repellent for protection. Unfortunately, these products contain ingredients that are harmful to animals and the environment—polluting waterways and greatly disrupting ecosystems. Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreens, is bleaching coral reefs worldwide—leaving them vulnerable and at risk of death. In order to protect wildlife from these harmful chemicals and while still keeping your skin safe—try making your own sunscreen using fruit and vegetable oils that naturally contain SPF. There are also many natural alternatives you can use to protect yourself from pesky insects!
Don’t Buy Souvenirs Made from Animals
Many tourists visit gift shops to purchase souvenirs as a memento of where they’ve been. Unfortunately, many souvenirs are derived from animals—many of which are endangered species. Removing seashells from shores or purchasing trinkets made from them is a popular habit of many beachgoers, however this is destructive to local ecosystems and makes marine life vulnerable as they rely on them for shelter. Be a mindful tourist when purchasing keepsakes and only purchase ethically made products. Avoid buying common items derived from animals such as ivory, turtle shells, seashells, fur, and coral.
With grateful thanks to our guest blogger, Audrey Enjoli
Audrey resides in Los Angeles, California with her two dogs, Gullah and Jupiter, and is an avid reader and writer. She is passionate about animal rights and is an advocate of sustainable and ethical living. Follow Audrey on Instagram @audrey_enjoli.
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of issues around the welfare of wild animals which have left me realizing that the conservation of wildlife in South Africa has nothing to do with the welfare of the animals being conserved, and everything to do with money and politics.
The two species which I focus on here are Lions and Baboons… these are the two that I have been working closely with in the field for over 15 years, in my capacity as a professional interspecies communicator and, of course, animal lover. I have just come back from an incredible week spent at the White Lion Trust, working with the only free roaming White Lions and their golden mates in a protected area of the greater Timbavati.
At the Tsau Conservancy, where the conservation of Lions and the restoration of the natural balance of occurrence of the White Lion gene in the Timbavati is the aim, the Lions and all the animals in the conservancy are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. This is an example where conservation and welfare can go hand in hand. Elsewhere in the country, Wild Lion are legally being hunted as trophies and are horrifically exploited in the captive bred industry.
Whilst I was at Tsau Conservancy, a government meeting was held in Pretoria to determine the quota of Lion bones allowed to be exported from South Africa annually. According to concerned parties in attendance, the meeting was no more than a formality to say that the process was involved in public participation. Quota of 800 full Lion skeletons per year to be traded internationally is going ahead.
A few days before this meeting two young White Lions in the Timbavati area, who are used for a “Walking with Lions” tourist attraction at Lion Tree Top Lodge on the Guernsey Rd, escaped from their enclosure and killed a man, whilst seriously injuring his friend. These Lions were captive bred, and hand reared for the tourist industry.
With the new decisions about Lion bone trade, captive Lions such as these could easily end up as skeletons being sold to the Chinese, increasing the supply of Lion bones to a country where conservationists are trying to decrease the demand. All legal trade of Lion bones have to come from captive bred or “factory farmed” Lion. Last year, following CITES, the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species, South Africa down-listed the conservation status of Lions from being protected as “vulnerable animals” to “animals of least concern”. The only reason they were able to do that is because there are so many captive bred Lions – current estimate is 8000 Lions in more than 200 Lion breeding / hunting farms.
These Lions are taken away from their mothers at birth; hand reared then used for cub petting and “Walking with Lion” experiences; and once they are too big to continue, usually sold for trophy hunting and now their bones are being traded as well. This means millions of dollars going into the pockets of the individual Lion farmers. Money. Money. Money.
How will this new law affect the wild population of Lions? Because the bones trade will be incredibly difficult to police, and Wild Lion bones are far more valuable than farmed bones, the likelihood of an increase in illegal poaching and bone trade will be high. This decision directly affects the conservation of Wild Lions in South Africa.
To date, much research has been done around the emotional lives of animals, so much so that in 2015, New Zealand amended their Animal Welfare Act to declare animals legally as sentient beings. Canada followed them shortly afterwards with a declaration of their own. France, amongst others, is another of the countries that now recognize animals as sentient beings.
South Africa is a country that is proud to be counted as progressive and forward thinking in many areas of business and finance, even education and medicine, but is sadly regressive when it passes laws which allow animals to be cruelly used for trade with no regard for their welfare.
And so on to the Baboon issues. Whilst this government was meeting about legalizing the further exploitation of Lions, a juvenile Baboon was suffering from horrific burns as a result of the mountain fires on the Cape Peninsula. The Cape Peninsula troops are legally protected from hunting, however they are being “managed” by a company called “Human Wildlife Solutions” employed by the City of Cape Town. Their mandate is to keep the Baboons out of the residential areas. They do this by shooting at them with paint ball guns and literally creating a “Landscape of Fear”- their own description of the strategy they use.
As a Baboon population living on the urban edge, many of the animals are injured by cars, dogs, pellet gun shots, electricity pylons and occasionally veld fires. In the past an organization called “Baboon Matters Trust” which came into being because of concern for Baboon welfare, managed the Cape Peninsula troops, whilst caring for their welfare at the same time. An injured Baboon was assessed by professionals, and if necessary was treated by a vet and then successfully re-introduced to the troop. I was frequently involved on the ground with these rescue operations and the care for the Baboons was unquestionable. Sadly, sometimes the injuries were too bad to treat and the animal would be euthenased.
At all times the welfare of the Baboons was paramount. This went hand in hand with skillful management strategies using education, understanding and compassion, treating the Baboons with respect as the sentient beings they are. It was only when the City decided to put a large amount of money into Baboon management and the job had to be put to tender, did Baboon Matters lose their position… again because of money and politics. The company managing the Baboons at present frequently come across injured Baboons, but over the last 4 years of their tenure, only one that I know of has survived treatment and been placed back with the troop. Animals that raid houses are killed, and injured animals are “euthenased”.
After the recent fires a very young female was seen with horrific burns on both her hands and feet. Her condition was reported repeatedly to the authorities and no steps were taken to treat her. She died of her wounds 10 days later in incredible pain.
A direct quote from Brett Herron who is a member of the mayoral committee, in a letter to a concerned member of the public states “Whilst the decision to leave the injured juvenile Baboon with her troop may make some of us uncomfortable I am confident that the decision was made in accordance with the experience and knowledge of experts, in the best interests of Baboon ecology and conservation, and in keeping with our stated objectives.” Nowhere in his letter is the welfare of the Baboon or Baboons mentioned. Their stated objectives concern only ecology and conservation…so as long as troop numbers are up, the animals themselves need not be healthy, happy or pain free.
As with CITES, as long as the number of Lions are at a certain level it does not matter in what state they are kept or how they are treated. How can this be changed?
Many animal organisations around the world are petitioning for changes in conservation policy in the South African Government. I would like to bring international attention to this state of affairs, and ask that all countries who recognize animals as sentient beings, and those who care about the ethics of animal welfare, hold sanctions against South Africa until such time that both Animal Welfare and ethics are taken into consideration with regard to Conservation.
It is not only Lion and Baboons who suffer under current policies; these are just two examples of many other species whose welfare is not given appropriate consideration in conservation and animal management policies. The Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) is a proposed inter-governmental agreement to recognise that animals are sentient, to prevent cruelty and reduce suffering, and to promote standards on the welfare of animals such as farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife and animals in recreation. The declaration as of October 2014 has the support, in principle, of 46 countries and of ministries from 17 further countries. More than 2.5 million people from a wide variety of UN Member States have supported the public campaign.
I ask that these countries put pressure on the South African Government until they change their policy around the welfare of animals in wildlife management and conservation. The only way the hideous laws of the Apartheid regime were changed, was through financial pressure on the country. Maybe now we can speak up for the animals,fight for their rights as we did for human rights in the colourful history of South Africa.
Any of our readers that work in animal welfare or conservation will appreciate the highs and lows that come with the territory. For us, this week has been a prime example.
Farmers have a tough job fraught with all kinds of risks. Their margins are small and they must do everything they can to protect their produce. Historically, baboons have been seen and treated as vermin – this attitude can be found throughout South Africa and other countries where baboons are endemic.
Baboon Matters is not just trying to change attitudes about baboons, but to highlight the fact that society has become completely disconnected from nature as a whole. The fact that we are so disconnected from baboons, with whom we share so much of our DNA, just emphasizes the extent of the problem.
During the past week we have been faced with two very different situations and attitudes to baboons. The first was overwhelmingly positive – we visited Ayama Wines near Paarl, where Michela and Attilio Sfiligoi are producing world-class wines. Perhaps it is because they originally farmed in Italy, where there aren’t any baboons, before moving to South African 8 years ago, but they have a completely different attitude to these animals than most South African farmers.
They take a real delight in seeing the baboons in the vineyards, and have celebrated their primate neighbors by producing a range of wine in their honour. They admit that the baboons cause some damage, but certainly not enough to justify killing them, and the troop is easily scared off. It just takes some vigilance. They face the same problem with buck nibbling on their Italian lettuce and cabbages – their solution is simply to plant enough to share!
Two days later we faced the other end of the spectrum – a farmer that was killing baboons in the most cruel way imaginable. After luring the baboons into a cage, he shot two of them, and left the remaining traumatized creatures in the cage, presumably in the hopes that their terrified shrieks would lure the rest of the troop.
We are pragmatic about baboons. We know they can cause terrible damage, and if all other options have proved unsuccessful, we understand there will be instances where baboons need to be removed. This is not the case in this situation, but when it is the only remaining solution it must be done as quickly and humanely as possible. It seems this particular farmer went out of his way to create as much fear and trauma as he could, and that is completely unacceptable. There will be legal consequences for this man, but while baboons remain an unprotected species these consequences will probably amount to nothing more than slap on the wrist.
There have been some positive outcomes from this case though. For the first time there has been real collaboration between Baboon Matters and Cape Nature, which is important because Cape Nature has the teeth required to ensure successful prosecutions. In addition, we have been engaging with the Farmers Forum, who do not like this kind of cruelty giving the farming industry a bad name, and will be exerting pressure on this farmer to change his ways.
Perhaps this peer pressure will be more successful in creating meaningful change than our judicial system.