The legalities of Baboon management in Cape Town

by Jenni Trethowan

Towards the end of 2017, in response to our on-going requests for information, we heard that the existing protocols were being reviewed and would be available for public comment in early 2018.

Based on communication between Baboon Matters and the City of Cape Town, we were cautiously optimistic –  the protocol was being reviewed and one of the most pressing, on-going issues (that of waste management) was finally going to be addressed as a critical step in resolving baboon-related conflicts.

But the start of 2018 seemed eerily like a scene from a “Ground Hog Day” type movie – the scenario where the same situation plays out over and over again until eventually there is understanding and change.

The year started with Dodger being killed in terms of the protocol, and the response from residents of both Tokai and Capri, where Dodger had been encountered most commonly, was that of fury – how had well-intentioned calls to alert the service provider as to Dodger’s whereabouts been turned into “assertive raids” and “complaints” that resulted in the death of this gentle baboon?

Many residents wrote to the City of Cape Town stating their anger at the decision, and demanded an explanation and information about the proposed changes to the protocol. The official response from the Baboon Technical Team (made up of representatives from the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park and Cape Nature) was to inform complainants that the new protocol would be released to the Baboon Liaison Group (the BLG represents residential associations) at their first meeting in 2018, rather than undertaking a public participation process before the protocol was adopted.

This all sounds terribly rational and it seems that all the boxes are ticked, but what is really happening behind the scenes?  The BLG should be reporting back to residents – yet, in response to a request for information, the chairman of the group has stated that “As chairman of the BLG, the policy is to confine communications to the other civic associations which are members of the BLG. Questions such as you raise below, should be referred to the managing authorities.”

It is not clear how the BLG communicates with the civic associations other than relying on area representatives who do attend some meetings to report back to some resident committee meetings.

The minutes of BLG and BTT meetings are not available to the general public – despite the fact that all of the members on the BLG and BTT represent residents or are paid civil servants and should be accountable to the public.

A point of concern is that members of the BLG are simply not prepared to disclose any information regarding meetings or decisions made within BLG meetings, and frequently our “area reps” get current information about baboons from “other sources” and not the BTT.

It is equally vexing that few residents know who their particular “area rep” actually is – and requests for a list of these and their contact details are met with stony silence.

The question of legality and responsibility for baboon management has been a hot potato since Wally Petersen first drew attention to the plight of  baboons in 1990 and the reality is that NONE of the relevant authorities want to be held accountable for baboon management.  The Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) argues that baboons are safe on their land and can stay there, and that if the residents have a problem with baboons in urban areas the City must be held accountable.  The City argues that TMNP should keep the baboons “in the park”  and out of villages – and so the argument goes back and forth.

When the City of Cape Town took the matter to the high court for a final legal ruling, the judge was persuaded by arguments detailing a “co-operative management agreement” between the authorities, and so he left the City with the financial burden. The other partners of the BTT got off scot-free as there is no written management plan and no written agreements, in fact the only  written document we can find is a single protocol  – “PROTOCOL for reducing the frequency and severity of raiding behaviour by chacma baboons on the Cape Peninsula, South Africa”.  In essence then, the only protocol for managing our baboons is the one that allows them to be killed.

It seemed to me that the high court judgement was illogical and perpetuated an unpalatable state of affairs, but I was not thinking like a member of the BTT – as a member of the BTT, the lack of written agreement, lack of management plan etc, is actually quite useful for the very reason that there is no legal accountability.

It is very confusing when we read press statements issued by the BTT as the media articles commonly refer to protocols (plural).  In a project of this size and scope, and with a budget of over R10 million pa, we would expect to see protocols for aspects such as training, skills development, care for sick and injured baboons, education, waste management etc.  But despite our numerous requests to see these documents (any documents….) we have consistently been referred back to the single protocol detailed above.

When we challenge the protocol and decisions resulting in the deaths of more baboons, we are informed that the protocol is “just a management guideline” – it has no legal standing. From monthly service provider reports, we cannot see how removing “problem baboons” has solved on-going raiding, in fact the December 2017 report showed that 12 “raiding baboons” had been killed in 2017 – an increase on the number of baboons killed in the previous 3 years.

This year started with the death of Dodger, making him the 70th baboon killed under the protocol, and unless we change the way dispersing male baboons are managed Dodger will be just one of an escalating number of male (and female) baboons killed under this flawed management guideline.

The protocol lists several mitigating circumstances, but to concerned residents these mitigating factors do not appear to be applied consistently. It seems that the system is merely a rubber-stamping method to “legitimately” get rid of “problem baboons”.  It is the Wildlife Advisory Committee (WAC) of Cape Nature who issues permits allowing baboons to be killed, but they maintain that not all requests for “removal” are approved, that each case is decided on its own merits and that mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration.

The WAC has the task of considering the case history of baboons that have been identified as problematic and based on their judgement either issues or declines permits for “problem baboons” to be killed.  The mitigating circumstances such as waste management, drought or fire-impacted landscapes do not have to be applied if WAC so decides, rather the “body of evidence” is weighed up and assessed.

On the face of it, we could assume that NO baboons should be killed under the protocol as waste management issues remain the highest cause of raiding behavior (from a review of all baboon raids recorded by HWS from October 2012 to Dec 2015) and waste management is a mitigating circumstance listed in three separate areas under the Protocol.

But before we head off and protest outside Cape Nature offices, consider the loopholes throughout this system – starting with poor waste management by residents, businesses and the City of Cape Town.

In addition, the Table Mountain National Park does not legally require permits to kill baboons on its land.  Rather, the TMNP has rules and regulations that allow them to make management decisions affecting the interests of state-owned national parks.

In effect, the TMNP has been killing baboons on behalf of the CoCT for many years now – Peter, Carpenter, Tammy, JJ, Moby, Sparky………the list goes on. These are baboons  shot by TMNP snipers on TMNP land for “raiding behavior” that happened in urban areas -i.e. City of Cape Town land.  So much for baboons being safe on TMNP land then?

When we made a request through the Public Access to Information Act (PAIA) to see the TMNP instructions and staff orders regarding the killing of baboons, our requests were denied and deferred to the City of Cape Town, even though the City cannot order TMNP staff to kill baboons.

In recent months and weeks we have been directing concerns – concerns now boiling over to outrage – to the City of Cape Town because the City is the authority who controls the budget, the City runs the tender process and should be ensuring that the project is well run.

But, in fact, all the members of the BTT are complicit, and unless we want to see this groundhog day scenario repeat over and over we have to change the process now.

Co-operative management agreements are useful for press and media statements and can certainly be used to make it appear that both the BLG and the BTT are working effectively and progressively for the well-being of our baboons, but unless there is accountability, the co-operative management disappears faster than water from Cape Town dams.

The current project is not without merit, but aspects of concern (such as water points for the baboons in this drought, veterinary care for sick and injured baboons, skills development for the rangers and a non-lethal approach to management) need to be addressed and a full management plan signed off by all members of the BTT.

Concerned residents and stakeholders have to be allowed to affect change to the protocol and be part of the drafting of a management plan for our baboons – this cannot be left to the authorities whose main aim is to dodge responsibility and hide behind the co-operative management façade.

We cannot rely on the Baboon Liaison Group to represent our concerns since this is not transparent and there is little communication from the BLG to residents.

So, it is going to be difficult to hold the BTT accountable to ethical and effective management for our baboons without full, energetic support from the residents, residents’ associations, businesses and tourism – as well as all animal welfare groups.

The process starts with you – if you are reading this, you are a stakeholder who can insist on change, and the changes need to apply to all the villages across the Western Cape and South Africa.

If we want to see baboons in the landscape in the future, the change starts now in 2018, any later is too late.


ADDENDUM:  On 10th February, just as we were due to publish this newsletter, the BTT, via their Facebook page Baboons of Cape Town, posted the new draft guidelines or protocols for baboon management in Cape Town.  

The lack of detail contained in these protocols, which the BTT admits have no legal standing and are to be considered as guidelines for day to day management,  serves to further demonstrate the urgent need for a proper management plan by which the BTT can be held accountable.The BTT claims that these protocols are aimed at encouraging socially responsible behavior by residents in baboon-affected areas, yet there is no detail on how this will be done –  there is no mention in the protocols for improved waste management, education of residents, improved training of monitors, training on paintball guns. 

 On the positive side, the BTT admits that the drafts are “evolving management tools”  but it is concerning that  the two important supporting documents (BTT Doc 1 and BTT Doc 2)  that the protocols refer to are still only classified as “work in progress” – it seems that  the priority should be  that there is a full management plan in place first, with areas of accountability signed off by all members of the BTT, including the TMNP.  Once there is an agreed  management plan “evolving management tools” would have more gravitas.

Update 14th February: The Baboon Technical Team (BTT) today informed the Baboon Liaison Group (BLG) that the meeting scheduled for 22nd Feb has been postponed, with no new date set.

You can view the draft protocols here

If, like us, you feel that baboon management in Cape Town needs to incorporate ethical treatment of these primates, to focus on managing waste which results in raiding, and not just on keeping baboons away from humans no matter the cost to baboons, please email, and 


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