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.