Baboon Matters Trust
About Baboons in South Africa
Baboon Matters Trust

Encountering Baboons

Encountering Baboons

Since baboons are found throughout South Africa, it is likely that at some point you will encounter them.

Unfortunately these primates are generally misunderstood and usually elicit one of the following emotions:


Yes, baboons have big teeth! But these teeth are not for attacking people, they are for protecting themselves and their troop mates. Baboons are generally not confrontational but they will react if they are cornered, or if one of their troop members is in danger.


Baboons can cause a lot of damage to property which understandably makes people angry.  Taking some precautions will minimize the damage baboons can cause.


Baboons are highly adaptive and can outwit our well-made plans unless we remain as adaptive as they are.


We cannot understand this strong emotional response to animals that are simply trying to live their lives and raise their families, just like we are!

Risk vs Reward

Baboons are highly intelligent, strategic thinkers that are constantly weighing up risks vs rewards.

If the rewards are high enough, they will take calculated risks – a stale loaf of bread stolen from a dustbin will provide them with calories for a whole day, which means they don’t have to spend all day foraging and can rather relax, nap and play with the kids.

How do baboons assess the reward?

They have incredible skill at analyzing the entire scenario – from human body language, to the layout of the area or buildings, including possible escape routes.

Will shooting an individual baboon keep the troop away?

If a farmer or resident thinks that shooting individual baboons will chase the troop away, he needs to realise that the baboons will soon learn to recognise him as the shooter. Not only will they recognise the individual, but they will also look to see if he has his gun with him.

So if the rewards are very high – a lovely fruiting tree laden with fruits for example – the baboons will first stop and look for the shooter. If he is not there they will make a quick, nervous foray for the fruits. If he is there, but does not have his gun with him, they may stay back or they may make a very quick dash for some fruit. If the shooter is present with his gun, they will probably stay away completely. The point is that they will not avoid the area, they will simply be careful about how they achieve their goals.

Body language – they can read yours like a book!
Baboons are experts at reading body language.

If you are unsure or scared of them, they will take advantage of your indecision and any attempt to chase them away will be unsuccessful.

Often people in these situations report that baboons were aggressive, but after unpacking the situation it turns out the baboons simply did not move away.

Just because we feel threatened doesn’t mean the baboon has actually behaved in a threatening way!

Overcoming your Fear

Fear is a very difficult emotion to overcome, but one suggestion is to deal with the situation as factually as possible – by sticking to logic and avoiding the emotion, you will be better able to deal with the baboons.




Baboons have both the musculature and teeth to do tremendous damage – if they choose to do so. But over the many, many years of interactions between humans and baboons, reports of actual baboon bites are extremely rare.

In our own 25 years’ experience of dealing with baboons, there have been a couple of situations where people have been pushed over by baboons and a few incidents where people have been scratched.  There have been less than ten recorded incidents where people have actually been bitten, most of which could have been avoided.


Jenni Trethowan
084 413 9482


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