Newsletter November 2019 – The Future of Baboon Matters

Newsletter November 2019 – The Future of Baboon Matters

In this Newsletter we explain why we made the announcement that Baboon Matters is closing down, provide an update on the Famous Four baboons of Scarborough and give an insight of what it is like to be a Cape peninsula male baboon. We normally send out our Newsletters three times during the course of the year, but since our newsletter of August 2019 there has been a lot of change in some areas and yet none on the more urgent issues, so we felt an update is necessary.

The Future of Baboon Matters

We have been alerting our followers for the past 18 months that our funding was running dry but it was only in August this year when the grim reality hit home, we had no money at all in our bank account and finally the crisis sunk in.

I have been toying with the idea of retiring for some time now; I have been working for baboons for almost 30 years and whereas in years gone by there was only Baboon Matters, but there are now other baboon groups and they are doing amazing work. It was in light of the dire funding and my own exhaustion that I made the announcement on Facebook that I was retiring.

The statement was met with a great deal of shock and many people messaging me asking me what could be done to change my mind; there were some very kind offers of assistance and a few gratefully received financial contributions. The NGO world is always a constant flux of energy and cash flow, so although the contributions were greatly appreciated, it was not enough to resolve the on-going financial problem…and yet I did make the decision to “do another few rounds in the ring”.
 

So what happened to change my mind?

Two things happened in quick succession, the first was the release of the 2019 census for the Cape peninsula baboon population (which illustrated how badly skewed this closed population is) and the other was the plight of one injured male baboon; George Jnr’s case demonstrated the urgent need to review and revise current management with specific regard to both dispersing males and waste management issues. Both of these instances remind me that I cannot turn my back on the baboons yet.

But to backtrack a little; at the end of 2014 Baboon Matters received a bequest from Joan Wrench and this amazing gift enabled us to get on with so many projects – we could go to Sabie when the huge trap cages were first reported and this trip led to the expose of the mass killing of hundreds of
baboons in the region and is an issue we are still fighting.
Joan’s bequest became the foundation of our operation and enabled us to go to Namaqualand to workshop with subsistence farmers during the drought, to Knysna to supply food for wildlife after the fires, for training monitors in Caledon and Greyton, for our education outreach, some rescues and also support for Prime Crew who look after the Gumble and Bean troop and other baboons rescued from the Western Cape.

A large part of our monthly costs have been travel as we try to get to baboons in need, such as the orphaned babies, trapped baboons, snared baboons and shot baboons. We have also attended the relevant workshops and conferences in SA. The impacts of runaway fires have been devastating in the past few years but time and travel to the Overstrand to check on the baboons also resulted in establishing closer relationships with villages now encountering baboons more frequently. In Greyton we helped the community get funding together to employ monitors and then trained their enthusiastic small team.

We encourage interest groups as they work to get proactive baboon management in place. A great deal of our work is advocacy; writing letters, objections, proposals, getting legal opinion and liaising with colleagues and experts to find solutions for the many problems resulting from baboon human interactions over SA. Another time consuming aspect is our educational outreach, not only physically going to speak to schools and interest groups but also through using our huge social media platform to teach people about the plight of baboons; our production of video and visual materials have been effective in reaching and, hopefully, educating many thousands of followers.

Our team at Baboon Matters has always been very small, being myself and Kathy Kelly since 2015 but in 2016/17 we increased our crew by two amazing people who worked part-time on out-reach and all of the activities described above.

We are lucky enough to have the support of a Cape Town philanthropic trust and we have also actively fund raised through our Global Giving Campaigns. In 2016 Woolworths sold the incredibly popular “baboon bags” throughout SA and the funds helped us with the projects outlined above.
We have always kept our costs as low as possible and paid the lower end NGO salaries for the very long hours of expertise and time put in to this trust.

Despite what many people may suggest, Baboon Matters is not hugely successful at fund-raising, and now that the bequest is finished we are battling, like so many NGO’s across SA, to stay afloat.

The “team” is now just me and there is simply too much work for one person to do, as well as fund-raise. And we do need funding to cover all the basic running costs such as transport, telephone, fuel, electricity, legal input and salary etc. in other words all the usual costs that are associated with a small organisation. If you truly would like to help Baboon Matters as we continue to try and help baboons, it is essential that you contribute towards our on-going running costs.

Please make a donation in any amount that you can afford, as either a once off contribution, or as a regular monthly payment. With your support I can carry on trying to advocate for change, supply innovative educational material and help baboons in crisis.

Here’s what YOU can do to help Baboon Matters help baboons.

 


 

Male Baboons of the Cape peninsula

The plight of male baboons on the Cape peninsula is a particularly problematic management issue as well as being deeply emotive. Most residents on the Cape peninsula will tell stories of their favourite male baboon; we all have an Eric story, or relate how Fred was so adept at getting into vehicles to steal bags of food. Dodger won over a lot of hearts when he tried to join troops in Tokai and reports of Dodger calmly walking across immaculate gardens or roosting in a tree at night illustrated how he had endeared himself to many residents.
Most recently video footage of Mr. Spaghetti went viral as the charismatic baboon sat at a restaurant table and polished off a plate full of spaghetti.

Although many people love the opportunity to see baboons, they are not safe in urban areas. The very small percentage of people who hate baboons will be the ones to shoot or poison these opportunistic animals.Situations of conflict arise when dogs attack baboons or where baboons are cornered. Reports of perceived “aggression” from baboons means they will be killed under the management guidelines.

Sadly, male baboons are highly persecuted animals and despite a reported population growth on the Cape peninsula, it seems that few baboons reach adulthood. The latest census shows the exact same number of adult males in both northern and southern populations and bizarrely both population
groups have the exact same number of adult females. Of concern are the ratios of males to females which are now badly skewed with some troops showing only 1 male to 17 females (ideally it should be 1 adult male to 3 adult females). In addition most troops have few or no sub-adults, indicating that high numbers of immatures are not surviving.

The 2019 census shows that there were just 9 adult male (AM) baboons in the 6 managed baboon troops in the Southern population. This is an increase of only 3 AM since 1999 when 6 AM were counted in these troops.

The northern population (Tokai, Constantia, Zwaanswyk and Mountain troops) also have only 9 AM, a massive drop in numbers from the 31 AM counted in 2015. It is of concern to note that since the June 2019 census another 6 males have been killed under management guidelines, co-incidentally 3 males from the each population group (north and south).
We do not know if Mr Spaghetti is still alive but we do know that that are at least 4 other adult males considered to be “problem” baboons so we expect to see them listed on the death lists in coming months.

In addition to the 6 adult males killed for management; 4 adult females were killed by dogs and 1 died of a pellet wound, 1 elderly baboon male disappeared and the overall numbers of baboons being killed in 2019 is almost 25% higher than baboon births.

The current management system targets male baboons just a badly as the pre baboon management era of the 1990’s when the numbers of adult males were so low that there were concerns about genetic viability and the survival of baboons on the peninsula.

The males are targeted because when they reach sexual maturity, adult males disperse from their natal troops and seek out a new troop to join. In the time that they spend alone the public perception that they are “rogues” exacerbates their plight. As the lone males wander through the now built up urban areas looking for a new troop, they find easy food rewards in our gardens and in our waste, even opportunistically taking food from open houses; they are quickly noted as “problem raiding baboons”, meaning that they will be killed under the current management guidelines.

The fact is that if a male baboon leaves his natal troop here on the Cape peninsula he has few options other than to traverse urban areas and a lone baboon is, typically, difficult to keep track of or “herd” away from the urban environment. Normally, the dispersing males stay out of trouble, they are vulnerable without troop support and so they tend to avoid conflict, but people frequently mistake a “fear grimace” (when the baboon pulls his eyes and ears back and exposes his teeth) as aggression, but in truth he is probably more scared than the person seeing the “fear grimace”.

It is also easy to understand how a baboon arriving unannounced over a garden wall may give the home owner a fright, but this behaviour is not and should not be reported as an “attack”. A particular concern is that one of the “assertive behaviours” noted against baboons by the current management system is if a baboon enters an “occupied’ home to get food. In most instances a baboon will not know that there are people in the house, if you are in the lounge watching television, for e.g and a baboon sees an open window or door to the kitchen, a fruit bowl on the counter or vegetables in a basket, he will enter with the intention of taking some high value food. The “raiding category” of entering an occupied dwelling needs to be carefully examined and revised and only noted if a baboon actively pushes past home owners to gain entry to the house.

In the past a prerequisite was that complaints about aggressive baboon behaviour should be accompanied by an affidavit from the complainant, this needs to be enforced. With few adult males and few sub-adult males (according to the 2019 census) it is clear that the current management system is “failing the males” and the knock on effect is that there are now badly skewed ratios of male to females. What is the longer term outlook for such a heavily managed, closed population?

In 2008 geneticist Dr T. Newman confirmed the lack of genetic diversity within the Cape baboon population, since then nearly 80 males have been killed under management guidelines and with no “new” genetic input coming into the closed population the situation can only be getting worse.

Whenever we engage with conservation organisations we are reminded of the “precautionary approach” in conservation management; it seems to me that this very approach should be applied to the management of the Cape peninsula baboons . The lack of genetic depth in this population group has been noted with concern and yet the consequences of continually reducing the numbers of breeding adults from this closed population do not appear to be taken into account as both adult males and adult females are killed for adjudged “problematic raiding behaviour” and numbers of baboons killed by simply living in close proximity to a busy urban area are continuous.Baboon Matters, along with many conservation and animal welfare groups, have been calling for a workshop to review and revise current management systems and protocols and the 2019 census indicates that the workshop should be regarded as a matter of urgency.

We cannot continue to keep killing baboons for raiding into uncontained waste or for situations that may arise as a result of attractants pulling them into proximity with people.

There needs to be a comprehensive management plan for this closed baboon population which is now being managed as two separate groups, with the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve regarded as a third, separate population. Flags have been raised by more and more organisations and groups who note that it seems that the intention of the collective BTT is to remove the baboon population through continued attrition of individuals – will the BTT take note or simply put their heads down and carry on?

Help our baboons by helping us. For EVERY donation you make, we can keep our doors open and effect the changes the baboons need.

BABOON MANAGEMENT AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

Colleagues liaising on baboon management are all commenting on the on-going lack of transparency and planning. It seems that baboon management decisions are increasingly closed to input from the public and the minimal public participation process is frustrating to stakeholders and I&APs.

In 1998 there was the collaborative Baboon Management Team, a body made up of community representatives and members of relevant departments from Cape Nature, the City of Cape Town (municipality reps), the Navy and later the new Table Mountain National Park. There is simply too much detail to go into, but it is noteworthy that the Brownlie Document (1998) and the WWF funded management plan (2002) both originated from the collaborative BMT.

At the time one significant problem was that TMNP would not sign off on any of the management documents and there was debate about the “responsibility” for the baboons and therefore responsibility for budget to manage baboons.This issue has never been resolved, despite a very costly court case, and to date there is no management plan for our Cape peninsula baboon population.

In 1998, when Dr. Ruth Kansky suggested the use of “monitors” to keep the baboons out of villages, the idea was trialled on the Slangkop troop and proved to be effective, but none of the authorities would fund the project. For the next ten years baboon management was heavily reliant on the fundraising efforts from the joint BMT, from Baboon Matters and community groups collecting contributions from residents. It was through these stalwart efforts that full time monitors started working in Slangkop, then Da Gama Park in 2002 and finally in Scarborough in 2003/4.

The BMT recognised the need for education and Dr Kansky’s IFAW funded “Baboons on the Cape peninsula” was produced and distributed to all homes in baboon affected areas. To this day Dr.Kansky’s book is still widely regarded as the best guide for residents living in close proximity to baboons and should be republished and distributed widely. Baboon Matters continued the educational outreach through our very popular printed newsletters, talks and walks.

Fast track to 2009: When it was finally accepted that management could not be reliant on fundraising efforts of Baboon Matters and residential groups, the CoCT allocated sufficient funds to run the baboon monitor project, including all Tokai and Simons Town troops (where previously there had been no management unless residents or Baboon Matters provided short term relief from negative baboon human conflicts).

The city based funding brought a change in management style; the NSPCA accepted the use of paintballs to herd the baboons and lethal management was introduced through the Protocol for managing raiding baboons (this document has no legal standing and is considered to be “a management guideline”).
Further change came in 2010 when management separated into the Baboon Liaison Group (the civic voice) and the Baboon Technical Team (CoCT, Cape Nature, TMNP with guidance from the UCT Baboon Research Unit and the SPCA). The two sectors were supposed to meet regularly and the BLG
was supposed to feed back to the community, yet minutes of meetings were never provided on request.

From 2010 Baboon Matters was not part of the BLG or BTT as we did not agree with the lethal management nor the subsequent introduction of a landscape of fear. We continued to raise concerns and objections and had to resort to PAIA to gain information that should be open access documents. At the beginning of 2018 we were told that the BLG had broken down due to “personality clashes” within the group. It is noteworthy that none of the current baboon NGO’s or groups had been part of this management system for some years.
Recognising that I&AP’s, stakeholders and civic groups should have a voice in how our baboons are managed, efforts were made to establish a system to liaise with the BTT. It was concerning to note that this inclusive initiative was channelled into the non-inclusive CARBS (Councillor Appointed Representatives Baboons South).

Notably, specialist baboon groups were omitted from the selection and actively denied the right to attend meetings.
The CARBS process is reportedly being run as a Protected Areas Act Committee (PAAC) which should mean that any I&AP, stakeholder or interest group can sit on the committee, but when requests were made to join the PAAC there was a bit of back-tracking and it seems the new CARBS system may not be PAAC after all.

The lack of inclusivity in the carefully selected group defies constitutional rights and so far there is nothing to suggest that future management decisions will incorporate the public voice. We hope that the process will be addressed in a workshop we are, collectively and inclusively, requesting of the BTT.

The word frustrating comes up again as this scenario is a shocking illustration of how poor management decisions have disastrous long term consequences.

In 1998 Dr Gaynor advocated for an electric fence along the boundary between Scarborough and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.This pre-emptive measure would probably have prevented the Groot Olifantsbos baboon troop habituating to the rich rewards of village life.

The fence was not installed and when service providers HWS actively pushed for the electric fence to be installed in 2014 – 2015 the idea was, again, not taken up. From reports, it seems that residents did not want the electric fence and the complication of multiple land-owners meant that there had
to be an agreement in place regarding installation, maintenance and importantly – who pays for what?

Whilst the electrification of the fence line was not an option, the landscape of fear and lethal management methods were in place and in the period 2013 – 2018, 7 of the Misty Cliffs troop of 18 baboons had been killed under the management guideline. Other mortalities were as a result of
shootings (2 baboons killed) and electrocution (1) and poison (1). Unusually, 2 of the well-known male baboons simply disappeared never to be seen again and so the troop of 18 was reduced to just 6

At the start of 2019 the 3 remaining adult females each had a juvenile, but by June 2019 2 of the juveniles had been killed and there was talk of the small group of 4 baboons being “euthanised” in terms of the management guidelines. Save Scarborough Baboons managed to secure a moratorium on killing the girls until 30 September 2019.

In the months that followed there has been a huge amount of effort from residents, from the baboon groups and from the concerned public to find out what is actually happening and what could be a viable outcome for the small group. At the time of writing, BTT had not provided a proposal, plan, public meeting or any proactive suggestion to resolve the concerns.
The community have been effectively disenfranchised through this lack of public participation yet are expected to help find, and fund, a solution to a problem that is widely accepted to be the result of “management failing these baboons”.

Baboon Matters has written numerous emails requesting information but, along with other deeply concerned groups, we have no information. The most obvious solution would be the electric fence, but for reasons unknown it seems the fence will not be installed any time soon. One group is reportedly petitioning the national minister for help, and Scarborough residents task groups are trying to ascertain if funding for the electric fence could be forthcoming from the resident rate base.

We believe that Cape Nature has indicated willingness to provide permits for the four to be relocated to a sanctuary – but not in the Western Cape. There has been some talk of a private safari park taking the girls, but we have not seen any plan or confirmation of this option either.

So there are some ideas, but, at the time of writing this newsletter, nothing more. None of the baboon rehabilitation facilities (all situated in the northern provinces) have immediately available enclosures suitable to four free roaming baboons and so the relocation option would have to include the costs of building an enclosure, a task I believe the BTT must be held responsible for; it was after all poor management decisions that led to this situation, yet indications are that the NGO sector are expected to fundraise for the bulk of relocation costs (being the building of the enclosure and provision of food and vet care for the rest of the girls’ lives). If the NGO sector and general public are to raise the necessary funds, then surely the BTT must make this known officially, with a time line, with some sort of plan that we agree to?

There has been much in the social media about the four females returning to their “family” and remaining “wild and free” in the CGHNR. But which troop is the “family” troop? There has been recorded splitting within the GOB from as early as 2008, and by 2013 the Misty Cliffs troop was being recorded as a separate troop. If the natal troop of the 4 survivors is the Misty Cliffs troop, well they have all been killed; if the natal troop is GOB (and the girls do return to the GOB troop from time to time) then we can assume that the 3 adult females are probably lower ranking as it would be unusual for a high ranking female to leave her natal troop. Within either of these scenarios there is not much to suggest that the 4 individuals have strong bonds that would encourage them to stay with GOB and it is more likely that a young dispersing male would join them in Scarborough if the chance arose.

It must also be acknowledged that in the past 3 years the girls have become “residents” of the villages of Scarborough and Misty Cliffs; their offspring have been born in the villages and know no other life. For me it is dreadfully sad that this group has no semblance of normal baboon life – they do not spend time together unless at the sleep sites, they do not spend hours relaxing and grooming which is an important part of baboon social behaviour and activity. They do not get to forage on the intertidal zone, nor does the surviving juvenile Skye have troopmates to interact and play with and there is no male to safe guard the troop or to mate with. This unusual existence has lasted for nearly 3 years – why would anyone want this for baboon? For baboons, social structure, interaction – even the daily soap-opera squabbles – are all vitally
important. If you love baboons you would want them to have that life, not a life hiding out in a village, walking alone, being chased by paintball guns, herded to an area where you choose not to be.

So, for me the question is what is the best possible chance for these four baboons, who have no apparent bonds to GOB, to find some semblance of baboon life. If there was an electric fence, I don’t think the girls would re-join GOB permanently. As I suggested above, it is more likely that a young dispersing male would join the girls and they may continue as a small splinter troop.

If the electric fence was in place this should pose no real problem as the group would be within the reserve, but the TMNP has made it clear they do not wanted habituated baboons “teaching” non-habituated baboons to raid. The TMNP have indicated that they will not allow an habituated splinter troop to remain in the reserve and I have seen nothing to suggest the girls will unlearn their entrenched behaviour in such a way that could be acceptable to TMNP.

Although Baboon Matters would prefer all baboons to be free roaming and have agency to go where they want, when they want to; we recognise that the management options pursued by the BTT has created the situation whereby the four individual females will have little chance of joining a troop and living a “normal” baboon life unless it is within the safety of a sanctuary.

It is beholden on the BTT and residents to ensure that we provide the best possible scenario for them to live out their lives in such a sanctuary space and every effort must be made to ensure that there is a suitable enclosure and provision for food and vet care. Baboon Matters and other groups have been writing and objecting about the lack of a management plan and about the need to revise the systems, it must be clear that what happened to the Misty Cliffs troop is being played out in other scenarios – look at the Constantia troops as an example.

The lack of trust and transparency is a bitter reflection of the disparity between management and the public opinion; starting with the introduction of lethal protocol, exacerbated when 20 or 30 or 40 baboons went missing in Constantia in 2018 and now at a tipping point of frustration as we await the outcome of the Famous Four.

Addendum:
On Friday 1 November the CoCT hosted a feed-back meeting in Scarborough where we hoped the final decision for the four baboons would be made known. Presentations made by members of the Baboon Research Unit and the CoCT management reasoned that the four baboons could not remain living in the village and that although an electric fence was the preferred option there was not a required 60% resident buy-in to implement the electric fence. Without the electric fence the CoCT concluded that there were only two options available to the four; being relocation to a sanctuary (if one would agree to take them) or euthanasia. It was disappointing that after having waited so long for a public meeting the questions were limited to just 5 which clearly did not allow time to discuss or debate alternative options or the conclusion arrived at by the closed team.

We will keep you posted as this situation unfolds.

Funding SOS!

After nearly 20 years we are facing closure due to lack of funding! Please consider making a donation to enable us to continue working for baboons in crisis!

Wildlife groups, I&APs and residents are calling for an immediate moratorium on killing baboons

Wildlife groups, I&APs and residents are calling for an immediate moratorium on killing baboons

In Cape Town, an immediate moratorium is now an urgent priority but a national moratorium is equally important when one considers, for example,  the incredibly high numbers of baboons killed in pine plantations monthly. 
 
For the moment, we want to focus on the Cape peninsula and the recent events that have resulted in this call to action.
 
Since it was implemented in 2010, Baboon Matters has opposed the Protocol for raiding baboons as we felt that the guidelines criminalise baboons, but in no way hold businesses, authorities or residents accountable to management of attractants that encourage baboons to come into human areas. Simply put, we understand more than most the difficulties of baboons in our homes but baboons are wild animals and the easy opportunities we create for baboons to take, meaning the more they will take them – baboons shouldn’t be classified as “criminals” because we forget to close the windows or put trash away securely, secure our property through means of considering the environment around and acting accordingly. 
 
Since the implementation of the Protocol, 74 baboons have been killed, yet there have been scant improvements to waste management, education or community awareness. The “baboon-proof” bins tendered by the City of Cape Town and delivered to key areas this year are proving problematic and are, reportedly, not baboon-proof.
Despite  the lack of overall improvement to waste management, and in the absence of any by-laws for baboon affected areas, 5 so-called “problem raiders” were killed in May and June, their main “crimes”  were listed as “being in the urban areas and acquiring human derived foods”; in other words getting food from our easily accessible trash. 

Making the issue even more urgent, and emotive, is the fact that the remaining four female baboons of the Misty Cliffs troop have been targeted for “euthanasia in terms of the protocol”.

The history of the Misty Cliffs troop is an horrific blot in the copybook of baboon management on the Cape peninsula. The Groot Olifantsbos (GOB) troop first became habituated to easy food rewards gained from Scarborough in early 2000; note that it took almost two years before monitors were employed to try and get the baboons out of the village, this was two years too long.
(Pay attention Hermanus and other villages – it is far harder to un-train clever baboons than it is to be proactive by employment of monitors and management of attractants to keep baboons out of urban areas.)
.
The main GOB troop spilt in 2012-13 and management had to contend with both the GOB and Misty Cliffs (MC) troops. Within overall management objectives, there had been little to no changes to policy or education – the game plan was use of aversion tactics and then removal of individuals…
So the MC troop was killed off – from 18 baboons down to just 3 adult females and 3 juveniles in April 2019. Then came the tragic road death of one juvenile, demonstrating just how vulnerable this small group are but it was the inexplicable death of the next juvenile, whose body was found floating in a swimming pool, that galvanized public outcry to save the remaining four baboons.

It is, perhaps, understandable that the authorities who sit on the BTT (Baboon Technical Team) have “gone to ground” as it were; baboon management came under fire in 2018 for the secretive issuance of hunting permits to two Cape wine estates (Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting) and the subsequent “disappearance” of 20 or 30 or 40 baboons – no report has ever been issued to explain what happened to the baboons and certainly there have been no real investigations or prosecution that we are aware of.

After the Constantia Killings had been leaked to the media, the BTT came under immense public scrutiny and the Baboon Liaison Group (supposedly representing the civic voice on baboon issues) simply disbanded. The BLG had not adequately fulfilled their role in reporting back to communities, but their total disappearance left a gaping hole in the flow of community input and public representation.

Key figures and groups in baboon management challenged the system and lack of accountability and in response Ward Councillor S. Leill-Cock hand-picked a few folk, dubbed them the CARBS (Councillor Appointed Reps Baboons South) and that was pretty much that. As far as we know there are no known purposes or objectives of the group and there have been no meetings between the CARBS and the BTT…

While the communities were lodging concerns and unhappiness, the machinations of the BTT quietly, carried on and in March 2019 a new protocol was silently slipped into place. The new protocol (link below) has substantially lowered the level of “acceptable” numbers of “raids” by baboons, and it is of concern to note that whereas in the original protocol “frequent raids” were noted at 5x per week; this has been dropped to now 4x per month! Category 3 (high risk behaviour) now allow for just one incident!

The problem with the protocol and its implementation is how incidents and “raids” are decided, the system seems inconsistent and influenced by complaints rather than accurate records of events.
The most recently killed baboon was Johnny Bravo, by all accounts a very unassuming character; but an unexpected appearance in a garden might be enough for some residents to phone the hotline and rant about an attacking baboon – is this fair or logical?
Regrettably it seems to happen all too often and many residents now do not want to call the official hotline in case their report is recorded as a complaint that may lead to the death of another baboon

How will the newly revised protocol affect baboons directly? According to the new criteria all four of the Misty Cliff girls should be “euthanised”, and for that matter so to should a great many baboons of the Da Gama and Waterfalls troops. What about the 6 baboons who hopped through a broken window into a local bakery and enjoyed gorgeous cakes – should they be killed too?

There undoubtedly is a great deal of emotion about the survival of the Misty Cliff four who have the limited choices of; electing to walk themselves back into the reserve (where they may be killed as were Slimkop, Moby, Sparky, Zamaka and others), or they can join “another troop” (not sure which one?) or they can stay in Scarborough (and then they will be killed in terms of the protocol).
The only slim chance that may offer long term solutions for these girls is if the proposed electric fence is approved by residents and all relevant landowners, that funding is made immediately available and that the BTT agree not to kill the girls while the fence is being installed.

The girls will not be given permits to go to a rehabilitation facility, sanctuary or any other land off the Cape peninsula.

And people are telling me the baboons “seem angry” at the moment – if I was a baboon I would be frankly furious!

But let’s remove the emotion and go back to the start, a call for a moratorium.
There is clear reason to stop killing baboons. Here are just two points; firstly there is enough demonstrable evidence to support the fact that a “landscape of fear”, aversion tactics and the killing of individual baboons has NOT solved the problem. 74 deaths demonstrate this. If the ideas had worked, baboons would be staying out of villages and none would be killed – clearly this is not the case

Secondly, the public do not want baboons killed and the authorities need to hear their voice. The issue has been raised many times over the years, but there is a new level of anger from the general public, they are frustrated at the lack of change, lack of transparency and on-going killing of baboons.

Baboon Matters and many other organisations are endorsing a letter to the BTT calling for an immediate moratorium of killing the Cape peninsula baboons. We will also be calling on the National Minister of Environment to implement a moratorium on killing baboons.

To inform all your own decision making, here are the original and revised protocols for baboon management, each can be found on these links:

http://www.baboons.org.za/images/Protocols/Protocol_For_Raiding_Baboons_July_2011.pdf

http://hwsolutions.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Guidelines-for-Baboon-Management-March-2019.pdf

Here’s what YOU can do to help Baboon Matters help baboons.

 


 

Getting a bite to eat at the “dirt” diner

Getting a bite to eat at the “dirt” diner

By Paula Pebsworth, PhD

M. Martin and P. Pebsworth collecting soil samples – Photo P Pebsworth

M. Martin and P. Pebsworth collecting soil samplesPhoto P Pebsworth

Did you know that people and other animals eat soil? Like, lots of animals and lots of soil?! I’ve studied soil eating for more than 10 years and still find this curious behavior absolutely fascinating. Soil eating is formally known as “geophagy” for non-human animals and “pica” for humans. It’s not eating a little bit of soil left on your fresh radishes – it’s purposely and deliberately eating soil. And it’s not just any old dirt. It’s special dirt that humans admit walking miles to reach because they crave it. Soil eaters can’t tell you why they crave soil, only that they do.

I study soil eating in monkeys and apes and I can’t tell you what goes through their minds but I think eating soil is like taking a multivitamin. Some days you need vitamin C from the mix, other days it’s potassium, and other days it’s like taking a Tums ®. I had the pleasure of moving with a large troop of chacma baboons for several years. During some seasons, they went to their favorite dirt dinner – every. single. day. That’s right – I said daily. It became clear that some individuals stayed there a long time while others dined and dashed. At the dirt diner – there was a couple of favorite “chairs”. If someone of higher rank was eating soil there, you had to wait your turn. This told me that they liked some soil better than others. As a good biologist, I tried the soil in several different places. I felt a bit like Goldilocks. One was too salty, one was too sandy, and one was just right – if soil in your mouth can be right. The “just right” soil was the one they waited their turn for. If you don’t believe me – see it for yourself here.

The other thing that surprised me was how long some of the pregnant females spent eating soil. My friends who study soil eating in humans have told me that there’s a strong association between soil eating and pregnancy. Hmmm….why might that be and what the heck can you get from eating dirt?!!

When I tell people about my research, they immediately tell me that animals must be eating soil for minerals. Well, maybe. The soil eaten by the troop of baboons that I studied was pink, ochre, and white. The preferred soil was white. Pink and ochre soil color usually indicates that it contains iron. If baboons ate the soil for iron then it would have to be available for the body. To test this idea, I used a fancy analysis to test whether the iron from the soil was bioavailable. Meaning that the stomach, small, and large intestine could break up the soil and the micronutrients found in the particles of clay could be released and absorbed by the body. It turned out that the iron wasn’t bioavailable and there was no difference in bioavailable iron between the pink and white soil. The iron was tightly bound inside small clay particles and the digestive process couldn’t break it up and free the iron. Obviously, some minerals are water soluble (like salt) so they are available but not all.

In addition to micronutrients, soil may be eaten because the fine clay particles commonly found in eaten soil can line the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – kind of like a mud mask. Soil can protect your GI tract from plant toxins, bacteria, and viruses. How do I know that you ask? Well, again I ran some tests in the lab and I measured plant toxins found in food eaten by the baboons. Then I measured the plant toxins again after I mixed it with the preferred soil and digested it under the same conditions of baboon stomachs. I found that the soil bound up tannins and alkaloids. This is great news as too many tannins can give you a stomach ache. Again, I suspect that soil eating serves a couple of purposes – micronutrients and protection. I’m not suggesting that we all start eating soil to cure what ails us, but I suspect that there will come a day when people will return to a simpler life without so many pharmaceutical drugs.
When that day comes, you might want to put some healing soil in your medicinal cabinet or grab a seat at your local dirt diner.

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Best seats at the Dirt Diner - Photo P Pebsworth

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Juvenile at Geophagy Site - Photo P Pebsworth

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Are baboons, like most humans, right hand dominant?

Are baboons, like most humans, right hand dominant?

by Jenni Trethowan

In 2018, Baboon Matters covered a huge range across SA and in our travels, I noticed a number of baboons with missing limbs, in itself, this is not uncommon. But the more I noticed, the more I became aware that a lot of the baboons we “noticed” were missing their right hand.

When we arrived at Augrabies Falls to break one long stretch in the journey, we all immediately went into the reserve and one of the very first animals we spotted, sitting alone on a rock, was a female baboon nursing a badly injured right arm – most of her hand was off, bitten? broken? snared? We will never know.

Adult female baboon at Auragbies Falls nursing badly injured right hand

Adult female baboon at Auragbies Falls nursing badly injured right hand

A few weeks later, we were in Sodwala and there in the distance was a troop running and I immediately spotted that one of the large males was missing his right hand.

Our journeys took us on into Kruger and one of the first baboons we saw was a female again nursing a badly damaged right hand.

Kruger National Park - missing front right hand

Kruger National Park – missing front right hand

Adult female at Kruger National Park - most of her right hand is missing

Adult female at Kruger National Park – most of her right hand is missing

By now my interest was really piqued and when I started going back over our records of injured baboons here on the Cape, the baboons with injured or missing right hands was quite obvious – John Travolta (Tokai), Penny (Da Gama), Crookie (Da Gama), Bafana (Da Gama) and Dodger to name some of the baboons that immediately sprung to mind, but there are other baboons from troops such as Millers Point and Plateau Road who suffered loss of limbs due to electric burns but as those troops were not actively managed at that time accurate records of all the baboon injuries were not kept.

Crookie with missing right hand

Crookie with missing right hand

Penny missing right hand

Penny missing right hand

To me this seemed to be noteworthy, why would baboons appear to have more injuries to their right hand than their left hand, to my thinking it could be because they use their right hands more?

But then my investigations took a different angle; Nikita (Knysna) was snared on her left arm, as was Beatrice (Plateau Road). Did this simply mean that Nikita and Beatrice are left hand dominant? Or that snared baboons are caught on their left side.

Nikita - Snared on her left hand

Nikita – Snared on her left hand

I find the idea fascinating and spoke to Luzanne Kratz from Prime Crew and she immediately confirmed that most of her injured baboons suffering hand or arm injuries have the injury to their right side, except for Deborah who was snared on her left arm.

Adding to the theory of right-hand dominance is the fact that when I notice baboons starting to become angry or frustrated with troop members, they commonly use their right hand to “slap” the ground or as a sign of agitation.

I am not in any way an academic, but I did attempt to read up on this subject through online primatology publications, and it seems that when eating or undertaking manual tasks baboons can easily use both hands, think of them eating seeds off the ground or pulling berries off a tree; they have complete ambidextrous ability.
Likewise, grooming is an intense activity where both hands are used equally, fighting usually engages both hands, although I have witnessed baboons administering a hard slap (using right or left hand???….. now you are asking)

Perhaps next time you are out and about and see baboons pay attention to any baboons who might be missing limbs, which hand they appear to use most (if at all) and please let me know.
It would be really interesting to see if there is some sort of thread to these random observations of ours.

Update on Hunting Permits in Constantia

Update on Hunting Permits in Constantia

Update on Hunting Permits in Constantia

by Jenni Trethowan

When the Constantia Bulletin broke the news on 4 July 2018 that Cape Nature had issued permits to two vineyards to hunt up to two baboons per day, there was shock and confusion – confusion as we had always believed that the Cape peninsula baboons were protected from hunting, and shock that permits issued for one year would allow 2 baboons per day to be hunted. But more than that, there was outrage that right here in our own backyards baboons were being killed by commissioned professional hunters.

Following on from a well-attended protest action and as a result of letters of demand issued by the Cape Party, Buitenverwachting voluntarily withdrew its permits, and we are told that subsequently Klein Constantia has also withdrawn their permit.

In the ensuing weeks there has been a great deal of activity but the overall situation reflects a lack of information and what seems to be a steadily increasing number of unaccounted for baboons.

Here is what we know:

When the story broke it was reported that 7 baboons had been killed and that the elderly and weak had been targeted to emulate predation. Secondary media articles noted that specific damage causing baboons had been targeted, and from communications it seems that a semi-paralyzed male, and elderly female and an “injured” baboon had been identified as “problem” baboons and were some of the seven baboons killed. It is not clear if baboons were being targeted as “damage causing” or to reduce overall numbers.

Note that at this stage we were getting information only from the media as the BTT made no public statement.

When the service provider report for June 2018 was released, there was no mention of hunting permits, only that “some baboons had been removed”. But it was noted that 20 baboons were “missing”.

The HWS July 2018 report and the Annual Report for 2018 gave updated population tables and the ground count and census undertaken in June 2018 by HWS staff. From these reports is was clear that the situation was worse than had been initially reported. The population table (pg. 10 of the Annual Report) shows that despite 37 deaths in the northern population from July 2017 – June 2018, it was expected that the population of the northern troops would be 255 baboons – yet only 211 baboons were found.

Of huge concern is the dramatic decrease in the numbers of adult male. In her census of 2015, E Beamish recorded 31 adult males, however the June 2018 count found only 7 adult males – a loss of 24 adult male baboons over 3 years!

So from initial reports of 7 baboons killed, we move from 20 “missing” baboons to now 40 “missing” baboons.

But we are also “missing” a great deal of information. I am not alone in requesting information – various animal welfare organizations, civic groups and many concerned individuals have written to all the authorities asking for facts. We have requested detail such as: minutes of meetings where is issuance of permits was discussed/agreed/debated; attendance registers and agenda; communication detailing which baboon deterrents had been trialed on the affected vineyards; why electric fences at two locations appear to have failed in comparison to the Zwaanswyk electric fence where baboons are kept out of the area for a reported 98.8% of time.

We asked for details of recorded damage caused by baboons that would have led to Cape Nature issuing seemingly unrestricted permits allowing 2 baboons to be killed per day for one year.

We have also requested detail of the hunts – when did they take place, what were the ages and sexes of baboons killed.

The Cape Animal Rights Forum has used the Public Access to Information Act (PAIA) and requested specific detail. In terms of the Act, the City of Cape Town, Cape Nature and TMNP have 90 days to supply requested information, so although the request was sent weeks ago, we do not expect any detailed response until the time limit is up in October.

But the collective animal welfare organizations’ have also been proactive in offering help to try and shed some light on what the City of Cape Town has referred to as a “phenomenon” – the 40 “missing” baboons.

Baboon Matters has volunteered to count the northern troops to establish an independent ground count, and our colleagues from Prime Crew have offered their valuable time to assist – one would have thought that the TMNP and BTT would have been grateful to have had a joint team effort with experienced staff to pool their knowledge and proactively take on the immediate and necessary hours of ground work at no cost or detriment to themselves.

But our request to the BTT was deferred to TMNP, who said they had their own research personnel who could undertake the work, yet have not. Our further offer to assist was referred back to the BTT and our subsequent direct request for permission to count the troops has been ignored thus far.

We have been asked why we need permission to count the baboons. Well TMNP has made it very clear to me that all visitors to the TMNP have to remain on designated paths at all times – or face prosecution. Clearly the baboons do not remain on designated paths and so we would need access to the baboons, wherever they roam, to effectively count them.

So, in conclusion – the numbers of baboons killed or “missing” has risen from 7 to 20 to now 39 or 40 (I remain unclear on the actual final figure). We have received minimal information from the BTT and requests for an investigation into the disappearance of 40 baboons who are managed during daylight hours, 365 days per year need to be addressed.

The City officials have not answered any communications sent by Baboon Matters in the past 3 – 4 weeks.

Baboon Management in Cape Town needs a Management Plan!

Baboon Management in Cape Town needs a Management Plan!

Modern-day problems require modern solutions …

by Jenni Trethowan

The recent furor surrounding the issuance of permits that allowed professional hunters to kill baboons on two Constantia vineyards has highlighted the biggest problem with baboon management on the Cape peninsula – that there is no management plan for this isolated population of chacma baboons.

It has been interesting to note that, typically, when issues to do with baboons arise, the City of Cape Town immediately issues a media release on behalf of the Baboon Technical Team, a “co-operative” arrangement between role players of the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park and Cape Nature who are guided by scientific input from the Baboon Research Unit of UCT and by welfare for the baboons from the Cape of Good Hope SPCA).

However, in the Constantia hunting case, there has been complete silence from the co-operative BTT, effectively leaving Cape Nature to defend the issuance of permits in isolation of overall baboon management on the Cape peninsula. We have witnessed individual role players actively diving for cover, denying knowledge of the permits or merely reiterating their mandates and roles in an attempt to defer any blame.

The BTT reportedly liaises with civic groups and residents through the Baboon Liaison Group and although neither the BTT nor the BLG have Terms of Reference, active constitutions or mandates, the two organizations meet regularly to discuss baboon management. However minutes of these meetings are continuously unavailable to the general public.

We are told that during the course of BTT/BLG meetings in 2017, the long held belief that baboons were protected from hunting on the Cape peninsula was dismissed and it was clarified that private landowners could in fact obtain permits to kill baboons through the permit process of Cape Nature. None of this information was conveyed to civic or interest groups.

Following on from the discussion of permits, it has been confirmed that at a meeting of both BTT and BLG on 9 November 2017, Cape Nature communicated the “issuance of permits” for two vineyards – Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting.

We are informed that all role players of both the BLG and BTT, including BRU and CGHSPCA were present at that meeting and all role players were aware that the vineyards could now use professional hunters to kill up to 2 baboons per day (according to the Cape Nature “bag limit”).

From media reports and discussions with some of the involved parties, it seems that both Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting felt that they had attempted all possible baboon- proofing and that there was no other solution available to them to resolve on-going conflicts.

Although the implementation of baboon-proofing and which aversion tactics were in fact utilized by the two vineyards can be questioned, it does seem that the only overall BTT “strategy” that exists, is to keep baboons away from humans – but how this “strategy” is accomplished appears to be at the discretion of individual land owners, leaving gaping holes in effective overall management.

The absence of an overall management plan, that should encompass the differing mandates, laws and regulations that govern the three authorities, has allowed the many differences of opinion and implementation of tactics to hamper effective long-term management.

In an open letter to the Constantia Bulletin, John Green, the long term chairman of the Baboon Liaison Group, denied any knowledge of the permits. In his letter he noted that successive fires had resulted in baboons coming closer to the urban edge and he specifically mentioned the fires of 2000, 2005 and 2015. He noted that the 2015 fire “had a huge additional impact: overnight the main food supply from the pines disappeared….”. John Green noted that after the 2015 fire the baboons “resisted moving up the mountain as the fynbos had been destroyed and the cold winter months were approaching.”

It would seem logical that the fires, the clear-felling of the plantation and the extreme drought, which would have impeded fynbos recovering after the fires, have all resulted in baboons seeking food in the lower plantations and in the vineyards. However, the chief scientific advisor to the BTT, Prof O’Riain stated that the fires “created a windfall of food, as the pine trees released their seeds …”.

From urine and fecal samples collected, the Baboon Research Unit was convinced that one month after the fire of 2015 the baboons were in a good nutritional state. It would be enlightening to see how their nutritional state has fared in the ensuing 36 months since the 2015 fires, with the clear felling removing a major food source and the drought stunting recovery of vegetation – have the baboons maintained a good ”nutritional state”? Are more recent findings available?

As the tendered service provider to the City of Cape Town, HWS provides monthly reports on the management of the ten troops under their care. The reports of 2017 into 2018 negated any concerns about food and water availability, and direct questions and concerns tabled to the conservation authorities were dismissed – we were told there was plenty of food and water for all ten troops.

Yet in the HWS annual report, Dr. Richardson makes specific mention of the impact of the fires, felling of pines and impact of the drought on vegetation – this is in direct contrast to their own monthly reports.

A key factor in strategizing and planning management of baboons should be sleep site areas, and on the Cape peninsula, baboons have utilized alien trees for not only food but also for sleep sites.

The Constantia Bulletin quoted Prof. O’Riain from a study published in 2011, whereby he warned the wine farmers that the “removal of pine trees on SANparks land through harvesting would result in baboons tracking the remaining large alien trees in the area. Given that most of those are on the wine farms, we warned of impending increase in baboon presence…….” . The statement goes on to say that BRU recommended removal of the alien trees, fencing and rangers. However, a recent visit to the area shows that the last groves of alien trees are all on the boundaries of the vineyards, or within the farms, and it seems that the troops actively use the areas as roosting sites – clearly such close proximity to the farms could see an increase in conflicts.

Buitenverwachting and Klein Constantia maintain that they have, collectively, installed 5,5km of electric fencing to keep the baboons out of their properties. From comments made by the vineyards, it seems, that trees on TMNP land frequently fall onto their fence line thereby allowing baboons access onto their lands.

If TMNP already has a policy of clear-felling, it would seem to make more sense, as part of an overall baboon management plan, to remove pines closest to the urban area first and leaving some temporary stands of pines on the upper stretches of the plantations, thus encouraging baboons to go back up the mountain for some food and also providing roosting sites away from farms and habitation.

However, SANparks are managing their land to the exclusion of all alien vegetation – regardless of impact on animals who have adapted to the trees over very extended periods of time, the lack of transitionary plans does appear to have impacted negatively on the baboons and the knock-on effect could be the increase in conflict with the vineyards.

The one common denominator in baboon management appears to be baboon rangers. The City of Cape Town employs a service provider whose rangers do their best to keep baboons out of urban areas. Yet even this service falls foul to differing mandates and implementation – the rangers work daily in Da Gama Park and Waterfall Barracks (Navy owned land), they traverse large tracts of privately owned land (such as Baskloof Nature Reserve, Solole and Kompaniestuin) to keep tabs of their various managed troops.

The City employed rangers work in residential areas (frequently going onto privately owned property) and on herd the troops on TMNP land daily – yet they are not “mandated” to work on the wine farms meaning that the service provider is left waiting for baboon troops outside the vineyards and are reliant on vineyard staff to work effectively to get the baboons safely out of the vineyards..

The problem with differing land owners working to their own mandates, rules and regulations is that there is no cohesive baboon management plan – badly managed waste on Navy land attracts baboons into the area; food waste attracts baboons into light industrial areas of Fish Eagle Park, and pine trees are a preferred roosting site and provide food – but the expectation is that as long as those attractions are on your land you must manage the situation.

For baboons the consequences of human mismanagement are dire – if baboons trespass or become “problematic” in their efforts to get to food, sleep sites or even water points – they can be killed. The Cape peninsula baboons face a variety of violent and aggressive outcomes, surrounded as they are by dense urbanization . Death by professional hunters, TMNP snipers, shot by pellet guns, mauled by dogs, hit by a car or electrocuted – not great options for our chacmas!

A grim observation is that when baboon management first stated in 2001, there were minimal budgets – the biggest allocation coming in 2007 of approximately R800 000, almost R8500 per “managed baboon” pa. However, in recently presented management data Prof. O’Riain stated the current R12 million p.a. equates to R25 000 per baboon pa.

Until mid-2009 only three (Slangkop, Da Gama and Scarborough) of the ten troops had daily monitors and management, and despite the restricted management an average of 26 baboons were killed annually on the Cape peninsula, with approximately 40% of deaths as a result of humans – cars, dogs and pellet guns being the main causes of deaths (E. Beamish Thesis 2010).

Conversely for the period 2012 – 2018, the numbers of baboons killed annually has almost doubled, with an average of 52 baboons killed p.a. Although the Human Induced Deaths (HID) may have dropped in the last two years, the numbers of deaths due to unknown causes have increased dramatically from 1 unknown cause in 2012 to 13 unknown causes in 2018. It seems unusual to be unable to cite the cause of death in daily managed troops and the fact that this category has risen so dramatically is cause for concern, and also cause to question the veracity of reporting.

What the figures seem to be showing us is that bigger budgets and more aggressive tactics have resulted in more deaths annually than in the period 2002 – 2009, suggesting that although there is a lot more money allocated, an encompassing management plan is desperately needed.

There has been talk of a steady population growth, yet this growth is contained mainly in the northern sector where the 4 troops have increased by 79 baboons over the 5.5 years of currently recorded data. In real terms this equates to an average increase of just 3 baboons per troop per annum.

In the six troops of the south, for the same period of 2012 to 2018, the total increase is 30 baboons – an average of 5 baboons per annum, over 6 troops. This slow population “increase” is evident in the Groot Olifantsbos troop, for example, where there was not one recorded birth over a three year period.

The baboon population must be viewed in light of ever encroaching urbanization as well as a realistic review of available natural forage after the successive fires and climate change impacts to the fynbos. Although previous studies indicate that the carrying capacity for baboons was much higher than the current population, these studies may need to be reviewed.

If the carry capacity of available land is indeed marginalized by landscape change there needs to be proactive planning in place now and successful birth control strategies need to be implemented before the population is deemed to be “out of control”. Immunocontraception has been used successfully in primate rehabilitation facilities, elephant herds and many wildlife management projects and could be implemented on the Cape peninsula instead of lethal management tools – this would be an effective way to ensure that the population does not exceed the carrying capacity of available land.

The lack of accountability for overall baboon management appears to suit the role players very well and the debatable decision handed down in the high court ruling of 2016 has merely endorsed an unwritten co-operative agreement that is not backed up by a documented and cohesive management plan.

The Table Mountain National Park is one of only two national parks surrounded by urban areas in the world and it is clear that managing an open access park will present many challenges not only for the park but also for the landowners abutting the park. It is essential that the buffer zone is implemented and that the co-operative agreement is translated into a meaningful management plan so that there is clear accountability and transparency.

The role-players of the Baboon Technical Team need to realise that the modern age, problems facing the isolated population of chacma baboons need modern solutions and that the outdated lethal management options are no longer acceptable to the general public who are increasingly aware of more ethical and sustainable alternatives.