“Baboons make mess”

“Baboons make mess”

How is it possible that despite a budget of R10 million pa, well-resourced staff and the full support of the Baboon Technical Team members (being the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, Cape Nature, the Baboon Research Unit of UCT and the Cape of Good Hope SPCA) baboons are still “raiding” in villages?

“Baboons make mess”

(Front page Peoples Post 29 August 2017)
The banner headline of local southern peninsula newspaper People’s Post today notes that “Baboons make mess” in Simonstown. The article notes that residents, shop owners and the navy personnel have experienced an increase in baboon activity to the point whereby “theft from private homes, as well as businesses, is a concern. The raiding of the public bins is leaving litter”. How many times have we seen this sort of article in Cape Town media over the past 50 years? Take away the date and one could almost substitute this article for one written in 1931.

How is it possible that despite a budget of R10 million pa, well-resourced staff and the full support of the Baboon Technical Team members (being the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, Cape Nature, the Baboon Research Unit of UCT and the Cape of Good Hope SPCA) baboons are still “raiding” in villages?
We have been fed an ongoing propaganda of research and theory whereby the “landscape of FEAR” was implemented – baboons were collared to show where they are, what they are doing and where they went, bear bangers have been deployed and the baboons have been mercilessly paintballed to chase them away from areas that fall within the “landscape of fear”. (Of concern are the many reports from residents complaining that baboons are paintballed excessively in areas well away from villages.
Where exactly does the “landscape of fear” begin and end?)

More despicable than the aggressive management options, however, are the lethal methods of management that were stringently implemented by the BTT from 2012.
62 so called problem baboons have been killed since the execution of the protocol. A recent review by Baboon Matters proved that removal of individual baboons has not solved the raiding – in fact in many instances, within two months after the removal of an individual baboon, raiding increased in one or more of the identified raiding categories (see graph below)
In most cases, the baboons tagged as being problematic are dominant males. By continually removing the dominant males the troop hierarchy is negatively impacted, and the troop is kept in a semi-permanent state of stress as the remaining males, or new in-coming males, fight for dominance. In these high stress conditions infanticide increases, with the result being that although we note “more” babies when we do see the baboons, we have to balance our field observations with the knowledge that many infants may have been killed through the increase in troop stress, so we are not seeing a population growth, but rather a troop in chaos.
The latest service provider report notes that for the period January to July 2017, there were 11 births in southern troops compared to 14 deaths; in other words, an overall decrease of 3 baboons.

Of interest, is that since 2012, the overall numbers of baboons in the southern troops has only increased by 10 baboons. It seems quite alarming that over six troops and in the five-year period since the service provider gained the contract in 2012, there has only been an increase of 10 baboons – that is an increase of less than 2 baboons per troop for the Southern troops over a 5-year period. Yet we are told continually that we have a “healthy, growing population”.
The idea of bringing dispersing males from other troops into troops such as the Waterfall troop may have some merit as it would benefit the marginalized gene pool, but this could only be a benefit if the males are allowed time to settle in and the troop to regroup.
Using the Waterfall Troop as an example, the dominant male Bongo was killed for trouble he reportedly caused and a new male, Douglas, was “imported“ from Tokai. Accounts from residents of both Tokai and Simons Town indicate that Douglas was a really gentle baboon who spent a great deal of time with the juveniles (frequently he was referred to as “Douglas and the juvvies”). But when confronted with the abundant waste and easy rewards of the Simons Town scenario, Douglas soon joined the troop in their forays into the navy canteen and barracks. Who could blame him? An easy loaf of bread from the navy quarters versus a hard day digging for fynbos on the fire ravaged mountains…
So Douglas was also killed.

City of Cape Town Mayco member Brett Herron explained “The reports reflect an increase in raiding in the Waterfall area as a result of infighting among males in the group and poor waste management by humans” and concludes by saying that “improved waste management by humans at these locations has not to date been addressed and no solutions have yet been implemented”.
How damning and what an incredibly poor response to both the humans and baboons. It is unacceptable for residents who pay over R10 million p.a. of rate payers money for a project that has yet to address the issues, and more importantly how absolutely inexcusable that so many baboons (62) have been killed, such upheaval created amongst the troops as the BTT chases notions of a landscape of fear instead of getting to the core of the issue – being waste management.

Baboon Matters has been requesting meetings with the City of Cape Town’s Brett Herron since February 2017. We are told that despite the fact that the CoCT runs the tender process and employs the service provider, they are not accountable for management of baboons – this being a joint responsibility held by the BTT.
It may be argued that TMNP should “keep the baboons in the national park” and perhaps there should be a joint responsibility between the CoCT and TMNP, but the facts remain, the main reason that baboons come into conflict with humans is in their efforts to secure easy food rewards. The vast majority of the easy food rewards are found in our dustbins and waste because humans are an incredibly wasteful species. There can be no argument, managing waste is a municipal function – and if there were better by-laws, fines and systems in place the food available to baboons from our waste would be significantly reduced. It would be ideal if the City of Cape Town implemented better waste management strategies in areas where there is on-going baboon conflict, but every resident and visitor to the area also has a responsibility to manage their waste and to baboon-proof their bins.

It is sad to note that this week marks the 5-year anniversary of the death of Peter and Carpenter, baboons who were shot and killed by TMNP as they had been deemed to be “problem baboons”. Far from resolving the raiding problems in Da Gama Park, the deaths of Peter and Carpenter simply created troop upheaval, increased infanticide and the net result being that baboons of that troop now break into small groups of younger baboons who are adept at getting in and out of Welcome Glen and Da Gama quickly to secure their easy rewards of human foods.

Five years after the death of Peter and Carpenter, the patterns remain – aggressive management, lethal management but in the words of Councilor Herron “improved waste management by humans at these locations has not to date been addressed and no solutions have yet been implemented”.

Cartoon: With thanks to our talented friend Chip Snaddon, who helped us illustrate the futility of spending money on high-tech collars so that managers know exactly where the baboons are at all times, yet nothing is done to address the underlying cause of raiding – poor waste management.

(click graph to expand to full size)

Graph: Red triangles show where one (or more) baboons have been killed in Southern troops. Yellow line shows number of raids – it is clear that removing “problem raiders” so they don’t teach raiding behaviour to other baboons does not reduce frequency of raiding by the rest of the troop!

Being a Baboon Dad

Being a Baboon Dad

Being a Baboon Dad

A beautiful image of George Baboon posted on the Baboon Matters page on Father’s Day got me thinking about what it’s like to be a baboon father. Chacma baboons live in strictly hierarchical families and while it may be tough being a low ranking baboon, troops are also incredibly loyal and if one baboon is in trouble, the whole family will come to her defense.

I was lucky to get to meet George and his family when Baboon Matters was still able to offer the walking tours. I got to sit on a hilltop with Jenni and the troop and watch them go about their day. George baboon was a particularly gentle boy and a very loving father. The life of a baboon father, even then, was very different than what it might have been for one living out in the bush with only natural threats lurking: leopards, droughts, rival males. George had bigger things to worry about like houses being built higher and higher on the mountain, roads and cars and unfriendly dogs. Things he probably didn’t understand very well and could do very little about. But with his family on the hilltop he had some peace.

Winds have changed and there is now new management and new protocols in place. The Cape Peninsula has become a very scary world to live in for baboon fathers. The protocol means that all adult male baboons who are repeat raiders and show no response to aggressive aversion tactics are allowed to be ‘euthanized’. This started with lone males and alpha males and has spread to all males and now females as well. The theory behind the protocol being that by removing ‘naughty’ baboons they won’t get a chance to teach the good baboons how to be bad baboons.

The fundamental problem with this protocol, one that Baboon Matters has been pointing out for years, is that the dominant baboon is not raiding because he is the only one who knows how to raid, he is raiding because he is the only one who is allowed to raid. Chacma baboon society is structured around hierarchy and food and therefore it’s the highest-ranking baboon, not the worst behaved one, who gets to dominate the food source. And with poor waste management and houses that aren’t baboon proofed that food source might be in someone’s bin or on their kitchen counter.

Fred baboon was a prime example of this flawed logic. Fred was an alpha male baboon who had been getting into cars to steal food from tourists (tourists who has previously fed him and continued to leave their windows open and doors unlocked). So the authorities decided to load him in a truck and get him put down. Jenni and I went to the vet where we knew they were holding him but they insisted we leave. Fred’s death was a great loss for his family and I felt it deeply too. Did this brutal method of management work? No it did not because now without Fred enforcing the hierarchy Force and Merlin, two other big males, could help themselves to the goodies they could find in cars. This means a father who cared deeply about his family and was taken from them and killed unnecessarily. Besides severely disrupting troop structure killing an alpha male also leaves the infants vulnerable to infanticide from a new male coming in.

There is a lot that is scary and unpredictable in this world for baboon fathers today and I realize that this is a situation that many human fathers encounter as well. Feeling like you might not be able to protect your family is a terrible feeling and one I wish no father ever had to experience. What if instead of trying to create a ‘landscape of fear’ those with power focused on creating greater security and safety for all primates, human and non-human alike?
That’s a world George baboon would have approved of.

Written by Noelle Oosthuizen

Raccoon and Baboon:  Not so different

Raccoon and Baboon: Not so different

Raccoon and Baboon: Not so different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to Be a Responsible Tourist & Help Keep Wildlife Wild

5 Ways to Be a Responsible Tourist & Help Keep Wildlife Wild

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.


  1. 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.
  1. Don’t Litter


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.


  1. 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.
  1. 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!


  1. 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.


Photo: Baboon Matters, Pixabay, Pexels

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.

Where is the Welfare in South African Conservation Policy?

Where is the Welfare in South African Conservation Policy?

Written by Wynter Worsthorne
February 2017

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.

That conversation dealt with, what about the welfare of the captive Lions?
Who is looking after that? No-one.
The NSPCA has a mandate to ensure that captive animals are not mistreated, but they are guided by the Animal Protection Act, which has not been updated since 1962. This states that as long as an animal has access to shelter, clean water and food and can turn around and stand up, they are not being treated cruelly. The moral reasons for keeping animals, not to mention the emotional well-being of the animal is not taken into consideration.
Lion cubs captive bred for the canned hunting industry ©BloodLions – www.bloodlions.org

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.