“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!