BaboonMatters Trust – Newsletter July 2020

BaboonMatters Trust – Newsletter July 2020

What an extraordinary year 2020 has been! 

The global pandemic and lockdown has affected all of us and I hope that you have been able to cope with the many challenges that have been coming our way.

When the Corona lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020, I wondered what impact this would have on baboons and baboon management. I was cautiously optimistic, thinking that as residents would be at home, have time on their hands and were having to be careful with food resources, this would mean that there would be a huge improvement in effective baboon-proofing of homes and general waste management, and that that in turn would make it easier for the service provider to keep the baboons out of urban areas.

Contrary to my optimistic hopes for a radical decrease in baboon activity in urban areas, the reverse happened; from WhatsApp groups (in urban areas overlapping with baboon troops) it seems that baboon activity has increased during the lockdown.  

In the village of Kommetjie, where I am based, baboons have visited the urban area almost every day since the lockdown began and sadly incidents of residents shooting at baboons with pellet guns, shotguns and paintball guns increased as did the numbers of dog attacks on baboons.

NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.

Since 2010, Baboon Matters has been fighting against the use of paintballs and bearbangers, fighting for a review and revision of the management guidelines and protocols and fighting for ethical treatment of baboons. Although we have had on-going support from many residents who come into contact with baboons, the lockdown has demonstrated the NIMBY effect so well.

There is a direct correlation to NIMBY – when the baboons are seldom seen or in an area, few residents support calls to stop the use of paintballs on baboons and only some residents voice disapproval against the use of bearbangers or are opposed to the killing of individual baboons. But now that people have been forced to stay at home and have seen the daily onslaught of paintballing baboons and witnessed the stress, pain and chaos it causes, there is a great deal more pressure being brought to bear on the decision makers of the Baboon Technical Team (comprising members of the CoCT, Cape Nature, Table Mountain National Park, iCwild and The Cape of Good Hope SPCA) as well as in community ward councilors along the Overstrand and Garden Route.

The CoCT has finally acknowledged that the green garbage bins are an ongoing attractant to baboons but are not baboon proof.
We thank the residents who wrote and complained about the bins, the residents who were proactive in removing waste and adjusting bins so that there were no food rewards for the baboons in the bins and our thanks to the CoCT for this first proactive step in resolving the waste management problems affecting baboons.

Baboon Management rolled out in Overstrand.

There is an urgent need for change to the protocols and guidelines, and this must be addressed as a priority issue especially when one considers that the flawed system currently used in Cape Town is being rolled out many other areas in the Western Cape; there is a lot of work to be done reviewing and revising the guideline and protocols.

It is of deep concern that techniques such as the Virtual Fence (see link below for details) are being implemented in the absence of any EIA or any assessment to test the impact the VF has on other wildlife, and there must be significant impact on other wildlife because if the landscape of fear has forced baboons to flee an area it stands to reason that other wildlife will have experienced similar fear and would also move off.

We would all love to find the solution that keeps baboons out of human occupied areas, but it seems to me that we need to rely as much on our own actions (sensible baboon proofing options, waste management etc) as we do “other sources”. We cannot expect monitors/rangers, paintballs, bear bangers, electric fences or Virtual Fences to be effective if we are continuously leaving food in waste or providing attractants through our lifestyle choices.
There needs to be a comprehensive approach and co-operative planning whereas we are currently dealing with lack of transparency and selective participation processes.

Kommetjie residents recently participated in an on-line survey, it was interesting to note that there was a lot of support to stop the use of paintballs and great support for a workshop.  The full results of the survey can be seen at this link

(Anyone with the dropbox link should be able to access all the files)

For Information about the Virtual Fence follow this link.


Ethical Treatment of baboons

In areas where paintballs and bearbangers are deployed, residents have observed what they notice to be increased stress levels and we have all witnessed baboons either limping after having been hit with a paintball or rubbing the affected area; we cannot see the injuries as the baboons’ thick hair hides any obvious bruising and we would not see internal injuries.

Although we have raised our concerns to the various organisations we have had little success in moderating or preventing the use of either paintballs or bearbangers, so it was very interesting to read an article in National Geographic where the impacts of non-lethal weapons used to control crowds in the recent protest actions in USA were analyzed. (see link below)

Of particular interest were comments about paintball guns and use of sound explosions as deterrents :

On the use of rubber bullets:

Jennifer Stankus, a clinical faculty physician at the Madigan Army Medical Center Department of Emergency Medicine, likens it to getting shot with a paintball gun. Yet serious injuries from rubber bullets have been reported throughout their history. Studies of their use in the conflict in Kashmir have shown that rubber bullets can cause fractures,

Baboon Matters has been told by a reliable source that in 2016 – 18 rangers working with the southern troops were commonly firing between 20 000 – 30 000 paintball markers at baboons monthly.   An average of 1000 paintballs fired per day.

In the northern troops between 60 000 – 70 000 paintballs were fired at baboons monthly.

Notably, in one particular month when baboons were experiencing food scarcity after a fire had swept through their home range some months prior, 100 000 paintballs were fired at baboons to keep them out of urban areas.

Please note that this information has not been verified.

On the use of sound deterrents:

“Noise is a common tactic for clearing people out of an area, says Richard Neitzel, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who studies the effects of noise exposure.”

More concerning, he says, are the potential effects of flash-bang grenades. These emit sounds upward of 170 decibels, which can cause immediate ear injury to anyone standing nearby—a risk that increases with the number of explosions.

The bearbangers deployed to scare baboons away from urban areas have decibel levels of 160 decibels, compared to the 170 decibel of the flash-bang grenades used to disperse crowds.

From the internet we discovered the following information:

It is clear from the National Geographic article that non-lethal methods of managing people do have potential to cause injury and yet we are using very similar tactics on baboons daily.
Around the world animal welfare advocates are examining management methods and working on laws and protection of wildlife and animals so that there are more humane methods in place – it is high time that the scientific advisors and the decision makers of the BTT review the “fear of landscape” tools and work towards meeting better management practice.

Paintball marker clear on the young baboon.

Injuries and deaths of baboons

A recent community meetings presentations made by icwild indicated that numbers of baboons killed through human actions was at it lowest under the management of the current service provider – as it should be with the staff and budgets available to prevent baboons coming into urban areas.

Despite the efforts of the HWS team, baboons are still being killed and injured and it is alarming to note that for the current year there are more recorded deaths than births.

The HWS population table shows that over the 7 years of their management, the total increase in the baboon population is 81 baboons in  the 11 managed troops; this means that, on average, each troop is increasing by just one baboon per year. 
Of course some troops show higher growth rates than others, but the Misty Cliffs troop has been eliminated completely, Zwaansvyk troop has decreased by 8 baboons and the CT1 & 2 troops have increased by only 1 baboon.

In her 2009 thesis, E. Beamish noted that the average annual mortality rate was 9%, but in the 2019 HWS Annual Report  the annual death rate was averaged at 12%.   It will be very interesting to compare the current count which was recently completed by E. Beamish of icwild, with the count undertaken by HWS field staff in 2019. We look forward to seeing the data.

Injuries and treatment for baboons

There have been a recent spate of injuries to baboons, most notably was the case of Twiggy. Twiggy had suffered untreated mange and an untreated abscess, and then brutal bite wounds inflicted by dogs;  Twiggy received no veterinary treatment and she and her young 7 – 8 month juvenile daughter were both “euthanised” instead of protocols being followed.

There was also a tragic case of where the only adult male of the GoB troop was fatally injured in a suspected MVA and he too was euthanised.

In other cases, baboons were attacked by dogs and the young female Betty suffered a head trauma that caused significant swelling to both eyes and she lost the right eye completely.  No veterinary treatment was given.

Stretch suffered major head trauma and severe wounds to his right arm.

Twiggy suffered untreated hair loss, abscess and suffered injuries
inflicted by dogs. Both she and her daughter were euthanized.

Baboon Matters and funding

Many NGO’s and organisations are battling with the implications of the global pandemic and resultant economic recessionary period, and so too is Baboon Matters. Our fund raising initiatives had to be put on hold as we could not do the printing and distribution of t-shirts and bags that we had planned.

We are so aware that it is a very tough environment but we do rely on support from the general public for us to continue our work for baboons and hope that you will continue to be one of our donors.

If you are able to assist Baboon Matters the 15 of July is a perfect day to help;
On the 15 July our friends at Global Giving will be matching all donations!


Please support Baboon Matters by making a donation via:

We are thrilled that Professor Lesley Green focused her sharp mind and dynamic thinking in a way that included baboons. Lesley’s latest publication  “Rock  Water  Life” is a book everyone should read  and we hope that her thoughts and narrative influence the much needed change in many ways,but particularly for the baboons. 

Rock Water Life is available from the Book Lounge in Cape Town and all major online book sales.

Lesley Green is deputy director of Environmental Humanities South. She is Professor of Anthropology in the School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and was a Fulbright Fellow at the Science and Justice Research Centre at U.C Santa Cruz in 2018. 

Waste management – Clean-up!

It was brought to our attention that during lockdown (in addition to usual roadside littering!) there had been a build-up of dumping that was attracting baboons to rummage through the waste.
Kommetjie and Scarborough residents were fantastic and the area was quickly cleared of tons of rubbish.

Sadly people continue to throw household trash, garden waste and fast food wrappings all over our scenic routes.  Our campaign to #Stowit Don’t Throw it is being widely shared but we really to need to reach even more people.

Funding SOS! 

After nearly 20 years we are facing closure due to lack of funding!  Please consider making a donation to enable us to continue working for baboons in crisis!

Baboon Matters Donation Options:

SMS:  Baboons 42646

Donate via:

Banking options:

Standard Bank
Blue Route Mall
Acc No  2700 400 80

Kommetjie Community Meeting Baboon Management – 18 February 2020

Kommetjie Community Meeting Baboon Management – 18 February 2020

Almost 100 Kommetjie residents attended the recent community meeting hoping to hear what the management plan is for our Slangkop troop. The meeting was MC’d by Ward Councilor Simon Leill-Cock (SLC) with presentations by Prof J. O’Riain (JOR) and Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS) area manager Cath Shutte (CS).

Kommetjie CARBS (Councilor Appointed Representatives Baboons South) Susan Litten was instrumental in organizing the meeting and her efforts to proactively inform residents about baboons was acknowledged and thanked.

The meeting kicked off with a presentation by JOR who reminded attendees that many of us had sat in a similar meeting 8 years prior debating the same issues.

JOR spent a large portion of time dealing with the complex issue of pathogens and disease spread from baboons to humans and humans to baboons.  It is not clear why so much emphasis is given to this issue as the real risk of contamination is actually extremely  low, but just the notion of getting Hepatitis A from a baboon is enough to worry some residents and the inclusion of the corona virus in the presentation seemed a little irresponsible. (At the last community meeting where the pathogen data was presented a resident left with the idea that we were all going to get Ebola from the baboons…)

In truth you simply need basic hygiene and good old common sense; don’t go around handling baboon poo or saliva and if the baboons have left you a couple of calling cards, wear some gloves, dispose of the feces and then wash the space and your hands thoroughly.

I wish other issues raised could be dealt with as easily, but it seems that there were more questions than answers.  A number of the audience could not hear what was being said and left, some people left early as they felt it was “the same old thing” and a large portion attendees felt that issues were not taken seriously or were not answered.

Paintballing and Stress

One of the consistent themes raised however, was that people are unhappy about the excessive level of paintballing and the elevated risk to children, damage to property and the apparent negative effect it is having on the troop. The panel did not seem to think that the paintballing was problematic.

JOR responded to several expressed concerns about the welfare of the troop, explaining that samples of hormones from the da Gama troop were being analyzed and that would determine the baboon stress levels.  I am not sure if this data can be extrapolated to include all other troops? From what HWS presented it seems that the Slangkop troop has had an extended period of extremely stressful activity having been  reportedly hunted and harassed in the Ocean View area where they were kept for nearly three years. 

There was no data presented on how the Ocean View residents felt about having the baboons in their urban area for the past three years.

In reply to one question about the efficacy of the project and use of paintball guns,  JOR stated that this was the best run project of its kind in the world, but could not answer where else in the world animals or wildlife are actively herded using paintballs or against which other project this one was compared. 

Water Provisioning

Another of the concerns was the issue of the provision of water and the option of food provisioning to keep the baboons on the mountain.  The City Manager (Owen Wittridge – OW) stated that they were not allowed to put water on TMNP land.

Historically there were water points at different locations on Slangkop, the first point (at the Blockhouse) was found to be too close to the village and so the point was moved to a Jojo tank along the jeep track. This tank was destroyed in fires and Baboon Matters have repeatedly offered to replace it.  The problematic lack of water during the summer months has been acknowledged by the role players and water tanks were provided previously so it should be a task that could be speedily implemented.
JOR pointed out that there is water available to the baboons if they (the baboons) chose to go to Kleinplaas dam or to Lewis Guy dam – but would the baboons be “allowed” to go  to that area?  Their movements are heavily controlled and if the baboons were to go to water access points they would probably head back to the spring above the Rasta camp, an area densely invaded with rooikrans and difficult to manage the baboons in, as CS pointed out. 
The Slangkop troop could also look for water above Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, part of their  traditional home-range, but I am not sure either village would welcome another troop coming into their village. 

Water availability does not necessarily equate to baboons being allowed to utilize those sources.

Prior to the baboons arriving in Kommetjie I had offered suggestions as to where a water point might be placed, Baboon Matters had offered to pay for a Jojo tank and had liaised with the Volunteer Fire Fighters who had offered to fill the tank with water.  Instead the HWS staff elected to place a water point in the Soetwater campsite meaning that the baboons have to now cross a busy road to go down to a recreational site which, although it is quiet over large portions of the year, it is always exceptionally busy over long weekends and the Easter holidays.

It is not clear why TMNP are allowed to dictate the provisioning of water for baboons within this very unusual circumstance of a national park within a city (or city within a national park).  There are existing Heads of Agreement between the CoCT and SANparks and we are told that SANparks does have exceptions for parks that need water provisioning; why is the TMNP restriction not challenged or even put in the public domain for comment?  It does not appear to be a transparent decision.

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink..

Food provisioning?

The idea of food provisioning was dismissed, not only from the TMNP rules, but also as it is felt it that provisioning is not a long term solution.  Scientists generally hold the view that if provisioned,  the baboons would have increased fecundity levels and raise infants more efficiently.  What is not accepted by the academic sector is that baboons are already provisioned by human derived foods– through our waste, from our gardens and occasionally from our houses. 

Have the exceptional food rewards gained at the local food factory, over the past 15 years, shown any significant increase in fecundity and troop population? 
It does not seem so,  the Slangkop troop has only increased by 13 members in the twenty years of recorded data.  (In 1999 there was 1 adult male, 14 adult females and 15 immatures; compared to HWS 2019 counts, where 1 adult male, 17 adult females and 25 immatures were recorded). 
We know that there is a high mortality rate amongst the immature category of baboons and Slangkop is no different; as an example, the November 2019 HWS  report records 2 births and 2 deaths for the troop. The overall increase of 13 baboons over 20 years can hardly be considered a burgeoning population despite the fairly continuous access to human derived foods.

I am always astonished at the reluctance to trial provisioning; we are prepared to trial paintballing, bear bangers and virtual fences – why not provisioning? Why not give it a “proper” try?  The last experiment with the Waterfall troop could hardly be considered to be a significant trial as a mere handful of mealie kernels was used to lure the Waterfall troop away from the navy barracks where they can access loaves of bread and an abundance of fast food without too much effort.

I would think that if food provisioning worked, it might be a great deal easier for the service provider to ‘manage’ the troops with the least impact on other wildlife, and since the BTT are considering the implementation of birth control anyway, I don’t see how a potential increase in fecundity levels will impact the population? 
A benefit that provisioning may offer is the potential to eliminate the pesky pathogens and deal with mange out breaks etc. by introducing medication at provisioning sites as needed; this tactic is used by many research and rehabilitation centers so has merit worth exploring. If provisioning did not work or show any improvement in managing the troops, then at least the BTT could say “We told you so” but in the meantime, we continue to debate the concept.

It seems to me that as we are attempting to manage one of the most intelligent primate species alongside another intelligent primate; both living with urban encroachment and in the midst of climate change – surely we should not be dependent on the “old rules”, but should be exploring a range of options that do not revolve around hurting, dominating or killing wildlife?

Here’s what YOU can do to help Baboon Matters help baboons.




The community observed that the WhatsApp location group was very effective at warning residents that baboons were in the area so that they could “close up” and be prepared.  A suggestion that rangers could alert the WhatsApp group of the baboons location was dismissed as Dr Richardson stated that none of his staff has phones able to utilize WhatsApp and, therefore, could not warn the community when baboons were “on the way”.
In a positive response to this the residents undertook to warn each other of the baboons arrival through vuvuzelas and the Location Group.

Join the two Kommetjie Baboon WhatsApp groups for baboon locations and advice:

NO to killing our baboons

An issue that the residents were not prepared to negotiate, however, was that of killing so called “problem” baboons.  The meeting made it clear that none of the Slangkop baboons are to be singled out as more of a “problem” than others and that we do not accept any baboons being killed. SLC first agreed that no baboons would be killed but then said he could not be held accountable to management decisions of the troop. 
The meeting firmly endorsed that we will not accept any baboons being killed in terms of the protocols.

Help our baboons by helping us. For EVERY donation you make, we can keep our doors open and effect the changes the baboons need.

Fences – Virtual and Electric

The main focus of the evening was surely the discussion about use of fences, so much so that one resident expressed that he thought he had come to a sales pitch about electric fences…

Both JOR and CS detailed successes of the electric fences at Zwaanswyk and explained how the proposed fence would be positioned along the Kommetjie firebreak with the intention of keeping humans “in” and wildlife “out”.  Based on the information given at the meeting, the baboon proof electric fence does seem a good option but points of concern such as the on-going costs for the maintenance of the fence or replacement of the fence in the event of a fire were not answered fully.

It was noted that despite baboon proof electric fences at Constantia vineyards, specific vineyards still detail baboon incursions to such a degree that they were awarded permits to hunt baboons on their properties.

From the BTT team present, the main concern about the electric fence was not the impact on other wild-life (whom they feel would be safer out of the village) but rather the  cost of installation (costs of on-going maintenance were barely mentioned). 
It was made clear that Kommetjie residents are expected to pay for the fence and it is suggested that the money can be raised through the formation of a Special Ratings Area, whereby it is expected that “someone” would have to go door to door to obtain 60%  buy-in for this SRA. Once the SRA is established money is added to monthly rates and can be used for a variety of agreed community improvement projects. 

It took Zwaanswyk 5 years to get their SRA formed after which the fence funded and erected, how long would it take Kommetjie?  This would not be a quick solution.

Questions were asked about how a fence would affect the use of monitors and paintballing and it was noted that the overall budget costs would drop dramatically with fewer rangers and paintballs needed.

It seems that the CoCT and her expert decision makers have agreed that an electric fence is the preferred option, yet the city continue to spend millions of rand of rate payers money on a costly management system that many residents are unhappy with.  Why does the CoCT not reapportion the ranger budget, have fences erected at relevant locations and run a more cost efficient baboon response and maintenance project?

The alternative solution offered is that of the Virtual Fence, a system whereby (very simplistically)  baboons are collared and monitored; sound boxes are placed so that if the baboons cross a point extremely loud sounds of predator calls, animals in pain or other baboons fighting (for example) are played.  The concept is that when the baboons hear these distressing noises, but cannot see the source of the sound, they run away from the sounds.
Dr Richardson sited the on-going success of the Virtual Fence project in Gordons Bay, but skimmed over its partial success at the Simons Town Waterfall and Rocklands areas.  The recent use of the virtual fence in Hermanus was not mentioned; it seems that the virtual fence does not appear to be completely successful at this stage. 
It is understood that there are always going to be differing success rates for different “tools” used in baboon management and the virtual fence may be one of the tools that is exceptionally successful in some areas but not in others. 
What was not answered is, what is the impact on other wildlife when the loud distressing noises are played?  Surely bokkies and caracals would also be petrified and run away? Have there been any studies at all on the impact of the virtual fence on birds and wildlife?

Where is the Management Plan?

For me, the take out from the Kommetjie meeting the lack of an overall comprehensive management plan and this must be seen as a significant failure on behalf of the Baboon Technical Team.  The lack of a plan means that management is reactionary and repetitive as we deal with the same crisis on irregular basis.  JOR pointed out that we had all met 8 years prior yet we sat again for a couple of hours, heard the inputs, asked some questions and left; there is no real “tomorrow solutions” or way forward.

The lack of planning was illustrated through the presentation by HWS where a detailed map of “problematic areas” showed  areas where gangs of youth hunt the baboons, dog fighting occurs or the rangers are threatened.  HWS have been dealing with the problem for an extended period of time, yet there was no proactive plan to relocate the troop back to Slangkop, no community meeting prior to the move, no water provision, no baboon proof bins etc. 

We understand that the rangers had been held up at gun point and that the event exacerbated the move – yet the management team had been considering this move for months prior to the robbery, but simply had no proactive plans in place to ensure the troop moved back with minimal disruption to all the primates of the area.

The lack of a comprehensive management plan is highlighted by the lack of effective baboon proof bins, no by-laws, lack of effective on-going education, lack of signage and law enforcement.  It is astonishing that in 1998 when primatologists Kansky and Gaynor arrived in the area they immediately identified the need for proper plans and through collective efforts and minimal resources of the Baboon Management Team  significant steps were made to get compromise documents in place – we had the Brownlie Doc, the WWF Management Plan and Dr Kansky’s book on “Living with baboons” is still acknowledged as the most useful  baboon information document of its kind.

Baboon Matters, with support of the Wildlife  Animal Protection Forum  SA, has been requesting a moratorium and a workshop to review and revise the current management through an inclusive workshop.   It makes sense that this long running management project is objectively reviewed so that long term plans and a comprehensive (possibly compromise) document can be agreed on. At the moment we are hearing “bits and pieces” at community meetings where input from the BBT dominates and concerns, questions and ideas from the residents and stakeholders are kept to a minimum or are not answered fully.
There are some residents who feel frustrated that we have so many questions – but no solutions. But how can we arrive at fully understood solutions when we are not given all the information to make informed decisions? 
We hear that birth control is to be implemented,  yet our troops do not appear to have healthy ratios and there is grave concern about lack of genetic variation (we are in-breeding our baboons). We are told that electric or virtual fences are the best option – but no-one can tell us what impact the fences might have on our other wildlife neighbours, or (in the case of the electric fences) how they will be funded or maintained.


There has been much written on both social and printed media about the demise and loss of the Scarborough /Misty Cliffs troop, the situation is desperately sad and must be a wake-up call to all residents living in areas where baboons live too. 

As we face ever increasing urban densification and intensified land use, we have to ask what the best long term solution for the baboons will be.  Will we be looking at fences, birth control and provisioning or could we consider relocation of whole troops to be free roaming on safe land purchased for this specific goal?  I first suggested the notion of relocating four of the peninsula troops to the BTT in 2016, perhaps it is time that we collectively consider this option?

Kommetjie Baboon Task Team

A small group of residents have met to form a practical hands on task team, the goal being to try to minimize some of the high level attractants in the village.
We hope to have proactive signage, a MacGyver team to help adapt garbage bins to be baboon proof, cages to contain waste installed at local businesses and a water provisioning point installed on Slangkop.  The task team will also be looking at upgrading information brochures for residents and B&B’s.

If you could not attend the first informal meeting but want to help out with reducing the conflicts please email [email protected] and we will gladly welcome your help.

Funding SOS!

After nearly 20 years we are facing closure due to lack of funding! Please consider making a donation to enable us to continue working for baboons in crisis!

Newsletter November 2019 – The Future of Baboon Matters

Newsletter November 2019 – The Future of Baboon Matters

In this Newsletter we explain why we made the announcement that Baboon Matters is closing down, provide an update on the Famous Four baboons of Scarborough and give an insight of what it is like to be a Cape peninsula male baboon. We normally send out our Newsletters three times during the course of the year, but since our newsletter of August 2019 there has been a lot of change in some areas and yet none on the more urgent issues, so we felt an update is necessary.

The Future of Baboon Matters

We have been alerting our followers for the past 18 months that our funding was running dry but it was only in August this year when the grim reality hit home, we had no money at all in our bank account and finally the crisis sunk in.

I have been toying with the idea of retiring for some time now; I have been working for baboons for almost 30 years and whereas in years gone by there was only Baboon Matters, but there are now other baboon groups and they are doing amazing work. It was in light of the dire funding and my own exhaustion that I made the announcement on Facebook that I was retiring.

The statement was met with a great deal of shock and many people messaging me asking me what could be done to change my mind; there were some very kind offers of assistance and a few gratefully received financial contributions. The NGO world is always a constant flux of energy and cash flow, so although the contributions were greatly appreciated, it was not enough to resolve the on-going financial problem…and yet I did make the decision to “do another few rounds in the ring”.

So what happened to change my mind?

Two things happened in quick succession, the first was the release of the 2019 census for the Cape peninsula baboon population (which illustrated how badly skewed this closed population is) and the other was the plight of one injured male baboon; George Jnr’s case demonstrated the urgent need to review and revise current management with specific regard to both dispersing males and waste management issues. Both of these instances remind me that I cannot turn my back on the baboons yet.

But to backtrack a little; at the end of 2014 Baboon Matters received a bequest from Joan Wrench and this amazing gift enabled us to get on with so many projects – we could go to Sabie when the huge trap cages were first reported and this trip led to the expose of the mass killing of hundreds of
baboons in the region and is an issue we are still fighting.
Joan’s bequest became the foundation of our operation and enabled us to go to Namaqualand to workshop with subsistence farmers during the drought, to Knysna to supply food for wildlife after the fires, for training monitors in Caledon and Greyton, for our education outreach, some rescues and also support for Prime Crew who look after the Gumble and Bean troop and other baboons rescued from the Western Cape.

A large part of our monthly costs have been travel as we try to get to baboons in need, such as the orphaned babies, trapped baboons, snared baboons and shot baboons. We have also attended the relevant workshops and conferences in SA. The impacts of runaway fires have been devastating in the past few years but time and travel to the Overstrand to check on the baboons also resulted in establishing closer relationships with villages now encountering baboons more frequently. In Greyton we helped the community get funding together to employ monitors and then trained their enthusiastic small team.

We encourage interest groups as they work to get proactive baboon management in place. A great deal of our work is advocacy; writing letters, objections, proposals, getting legal opinion and liaising with colleagues and experts to find solutions for the many problems resulting from baboon human interactions over SA. Another time consuming aspect is our educational outreach, not only physically going to speak to schools and interest groups but also through using our huge social media platform to teach people about the plight of baboons; our production of video and visual materials have been effective in reaching and, hopefully, educating many thousands of followers.

Our team at Baboon Matters has always been very small, being myself and Kathy Kelly since 2015 but in 2016/17 we increased our crew by two amazing people who worked part-time on out-reach and all of the activities described above.

We are lucky enough to have the support of a Cape Town philanthropic trust and we have also actively fund raised through our Global Giving Campaigns. In 2016 Woolworths sold the incredibly popular “baboon bags” throughout SA and the funds helped us with the projects outlined above.
We have always kept our costs as low as possible and paid the lower end NGO salaries for the very long hours of expertise and time put in to this trust.

Despite what many people may suggest, Baboon Matters is not hugely successful at fund-raising, and now that the bequest is finished we are battling, like so many NGO’s across SA, to stay afloat.

The “team” is now just me and there is simply too much work for one person to do, as well as fund-raise. And we do need funding to cover all the basic running costs such as transport, telephone, fuel, electricity, legal input and salary etc. in other words all the usual costs that are associated with a small organisation. If you truly would like to help Baboon Matters as we continue to try and help baboons, it is essential that you contribute towards our on-going running costs.

Please make a donation in any amount that you can afford, as either a once off contribution, or as a regular monthly payment. With your support I can carry on trying to advocate for change, supply innovative educational material and help baboons in crisis.

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Male Baboons of the Cape peninsula

The plight of male baboons on the Cape peninsula is a particularly problematic management issue as well as being deeply emotive. Most residents on the Cape peninsula will tell stories of their favourite male baboon; we all have an Eric story, or relate how Fred was so adept at getting into vehicles to steal bags of food. Dodger won over a lot of hearts when he tried to join troops in Tokai and reports of Dodger calmly walking across immaculate gardens or roosting in a tree at night illustrated how he had endeared himself to many residents.
Most recently video footage of Mr. Spaghetti went viral as the charismatic baboon sat at a restaurant table and polished off a plate full of spaghetti.

Although many people love the opportunity to see baboons, they are not safe in urban areas. The very small percentage of people who hate baboons will be the ones to shoot or poison these opportunistic animals.Situations of conflict arise when dogs attack baboons or where baboons are cornered. Reports of perceived “aggression” from baboons means they will be killed under the management guidelines.

Sadly, male baboons are highly persecuted animals and despite a reported population growth on the Cape peninsula, it seems that few baboons reach adulthood. The latest census shows the exact same number of adult males in both northern and southern populations and bizarrely both population
groups have the exact same number of adult females. Of concern are the ratios of males to females which are now badly skewed with some troops showing only 1 male to 17 females (ideally it should be 1 adult male to 3 adult females). In addition most troops have few or no sub-adults, indicating that high numbers of immatures are not surviving.

The 2019 census shows that there were just 9 adult male (AM) baboons in the 6 managed baboon troops in the Southern population. This is an increase of only 3 AM since 1999 when 6 AM were counted in these troops.

The northern population (Tokai, Constantia, Zwaanswyk and Mountain troops) also have only 9 AM, a massive drop in numbers from the 31 AM counted in 2015. It is of concern to note that since the June 2019 census another 6 males have been killed under management guidelines, co-incidentally 3 males from the each population group (north and south).
We do not know if Mr Spaghetti is still alive but we do know that that are at least 4 other adult males considered to be “problem” baboons so we expect to see them listed on the death lists in coming months.

In addition to the 6 adult males killed for management; 4 adult females were killed by dogs and 1 died of a pellet wound, 1 elderly baboon male disappeared and the overall numbers of baboons being killed in 2019 is almost 25% higher than baboon births.

The current management system targets male baboons just a badly as the pre baboon management era of the 1990’s when the numbers of adult males were so low that there were concerns about genetic viability and the survival of baboons on the peninsula.

The males are targeted because when they reach sexual maturity, adult males disperse from their natal troops and seek out a new troop to join. In the time that they spend alone the public perception that they are “rogues” exacerbates their plight. As the lone males wander through the now built up urban areas looking for a new troop, they find easy food rewards in our gardens and in our waste, even opportunistically taking food from open houses; they are quickly noted as “problem raiding baboons”, meaning that they will be killed under the current management guidelines.

The fact is that if a male baboon leaves his natal troop here on the Cape peninsula he has few options other than to traverse urban areas and a lone baboon is, typically, difficult to keep track of or “herd” away from the urban environment. Normally, the dispersing males stay out of trouble, they are vulnerable without troop support and so they tend to avoid conflict, but people frequently mistake a “fear grimace” (when the baboon pulls his eyes and ears back and exposes his teeth) as aggression, but in truth he is probably more scared than the person seeing the “fear grimace”.

It is also easy to understand how a baboon arriving unannounced over a garden wall may give the home owner a fright, but this behaviour is not and should not be reported as an “attack”. A particular concern is that one of the “assertive behaviours” noted against baboons by the current management system is if a baboon enters an “occupied’ home to get food. In most instances a baboon will not know that there are people in the house, if you are in the lounge watching television, for e.g and a baboon sees an open window or door to the kitchen, a fruit bowl on the counter or vegetables in a basket, he will enter with the intention of taking some high value food. The “raiding category” of entering an occupied dwelling needs to be carefully examined and revised and only noted if a baboon actively pushes past home owners to gain entry to the house.

In the past a prerequisite was that complaints about aggressive baboon behaviour should be accompanied by an affidavit from the complainant, this needs to be enforced. With few adult males and few sub-adult males (according to the 2019 census) it is clear that the current management system is “failing the males” and the knock on effect is that there are now badly skewed ratios of male to females. What is the longer term outlook for such a heavily managed, closed population?

In 2008 geneticist Dr T. Newman confirmed the lack of genetic diversity within the Cape baboon population, since then nearly 80 males have been killed under management guidelines and with no “new” genetic input coming into the closed population the situation can only be getting worse.

Whenever we engage with conservation organisations we are reminded of the “precautionary approach” in conservation management; it seems to me that this very approach should be applied to the management of the Cape peninsula baboons . The lack of genetic depth in this population group has been noted with concern and yet the consequences of continually reducing the numbers of breeding adults from this closed population do not appear to be taken into account as both adult males and adult females are killed for adjudged “problematic raiding behaviour” and numbers of baboons killed by simply living in close proximity to a busy urban area are continuous.Baboon Matters, along with many conservation and animal welfare groups, have been calling for a workshop to review and revise current management systems and protocols and the 2019 census indicates that the workshop should be regarded as a matter of urgency.

We cannot continue to keep killing baboons for raiding into uncontained waste or for situations that may arise as a result of attractants pulling them into proximity with people.

There needs to be a comprehensive management plan for this closed baboon population which is now being managed as two separate groups, with the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve regarded as a third, separate population. Flags have been raised by more and more organisations and groups who note that it seems that the intention of the collective BTT is to remove the baboon population through continued attrition of individuals – will the BTT take note or simply put their heads down and carry on?

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Colleagues liaising on baboon management are all commenting on the on-going lack of transparency and planning. It seems that baboon management decisions are increasingly closed to input from the public and the minimal public participation process is frustrating to stakeholders and I&APs.

In 1998 there was the collaborative Baboon Management Team, a body made up of community representatives and members of relevant departments from Cape Nature, the City of Cape Town (municipality reps), the Navy and later the new Table Mountain National Park. There is simply too much detail to go into, but it is noteworthy that the Brownlie Document (1998) and the WWF funded management plan (2002) both originated from the collaborative BMT.

At the time one significant problem was that TMNP would not sign off on any of the management documents and there was debate about the “responsibility” for the baboons and therefore responsibility for budget to manage baboons.This issue has never been resolved, despite a very costly court case, and to date there is no management plan for our Cape peninsula baboon population.

In 1998, when Dr. Ruth Kansky suggested the use of “monitors” to keep the baboons out of villages, the idea was trialled on the Slangkop troop and proved to be effective, but none of the authorities would fund the project. For the next ten years baboon management was heavily reliant on the fundraising efforts from the joint BMT, from Baboon Matters and community groups collecting contributions from residents. It was through these stalwart efforts that full time monitors started working in Slangkop, then Da Gama Park in 2002 and finally in Scarborough in 2003/4.

The BMT recognised the need for education and Dr Kansky’s IFAW funded “Baboons on the Cape peninsula” was produced and distributed to all homes in baboon affected areas. To this day Dr.Kansky’s book is still widely regarded as the best guide for residents living in close proximity to baboons and should be republished and distributed widely. Baboon Matters continued the educational outreach through our very popular printed newsletters, talks and walks.

Fast track to 2009: When it was finally accepted that management could not be reliant on fundraising efforts of Baboon Matters and residential groups, the CoCT allocated sufficient funds to run the baboon monitor project, including all Tokai and Simons Town troops (where previously there had been no management unless residents or Baboon Matters provided short term relief from negative baboon human conflicts).

The city based funding brought a change in management style; the NSPCA accepted the use of paintballs to herd the baboons and lethal management was introduced through the Protocol for managing raiding baboons (this document has no legal standing and is considered to be “a management guideline”).
Further change came in 2010 when management separated into the Baboon Liaison Group (the civic voice) and the Baboon Technical Team (CoCT, Cape Nature, TMNP with guidance from the UCT Baboon Research Unit and the SPCA). The two sectors were supposed to meet regularly and the BLG
was supposed to feed back to the community, yet minutes of meetings were never provided on request.

From 2010 Baboon Matters was not part of the BLG or BTT as we did not agree with the lethal management nor the subsequent introduction of a landscape of fear. We continued to raise concerns and objections and had to resort to PAIA to gain information that should be open access documents. At the beginning of 2018 we were told that the BLG had broken down due to “personality clashes” within the group. It is noteworthy that none of the current baboon NGO’s or groups had been part of this management system for some years.
Recognising that I&AP’s, stakeholders and civic groups should have a voice in how our baboons are managed, efforts were made to establish a system to liaise with the BTT. It was concerning to note that this inclusive initiative was channelled into the non-inclusive CARBS (Councillor Appointed Representatives Baboons South).

Notably, specialist baboon groups were omitted from the selection and actively denied the right to attend meetings.
The CARBS process is reportedly being run as a Protected Areas Act Committee (PAAC) which should mean that any I&AP, stakeholder or interest group can sit on the committee, but when requests were made to join the PAAC there was a bit of back-tracking and it seems the new CARBS system may not be PAAC after all.

The lack of inclusivity in the carefully selected group defies constitutional rights and so far there is nothing to suggest that future management decisions will incorporate the public voice. We hope that the process will be addressed in a workshop we are, collectively and inclusively, requesting of the BTT.

The word frustrating comes up again as this scenario is a shocking illustration of how poor management decisions have disastrous long term consequences.

In 1998 Dr Gaynor advocated for an electric fence along the boundary between Scarborough and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.This pre-emptive measure would probably have prevented the Groot Olifantsbos baboon troop habituating to the rich rewards of village life.

The fence was not installed and when service providers HWS actively pushed for the electric fence to be installed in 2014 – 2015 the idea was, again, not taken up. From reports, it seems that residents did not want the electric fence and the complication of multiple land-owners meant that there had
to be an agreement in place regarding installation, maintenance and importantly – who pays for what?

Whilst the electrification of the fence line was not an option, the landscape of fear and lethal management methods were in place and in the period 2013 – 2018, 7 of the Misty Cliffs troop of 18 baboons had been killed under the management guideline. Other mortalities were as a result of
shootings (2 baboons killed) and electrocution (1) and poison (1). Unusually, 2 of the well-known male baboons simply disappeared never to be seen again and so the troop of 18 was reduced to just 6

At the start of 2019 the 3 remaining adult females each had a juvenile, but by June 2019 2 of the juveniles had been killed and there was talk of the small group of 4 baboons being “euthanised” in terms of the management guidelines. Save Scarborough Baboons managed to secure a moratorium on killing the girls until 30 September 2019.

In the months that followed there has been a huge amount of effort from residents, from the baboon groups and from the concerned public to find out what is actually happening and what could be a viable outcome for the small group. At the time of writing, BTT had not provided a proposal, plan, public meeting or any proactive suggestion to resolve the concerns.
The community have been effectively disenfranchised through this lack of public participation yet are expected to help find, and fund, a solution to a problem that is widely accepted to be the result of “management failing these baboons”.

Baboon Matters has written numerous emails requesting information but, along with other deeply concerned groups, we have no information. The most obvious solution would be the electric fence, but for reasons unknown it seems the fence will not be installed any time soon. One group is reportedly petitioning the national minister for help, and Scarborough residents task groups are trying to ascertain if funding for the electric fence could be forthcoming from the resident rate base.

We believe that Cape Nature has indicated willingness to provide permits for the four to be relocated to a sanctuary – but not in the Western Cape. There has been some talk of a private safari park taking the girls, but we have not seen any plan or confirmation of this option either.

So there are some ideas, but, at the time of writing this newsletter, nothing more. None of the baboon rehabilitation facilities (all situated in the northern provinces) have immediately available enclosures suitable to four free roaming baboons and so the relocation option would have to include the costs of building an enclosure, a task I believe the BTT must be held responsible for; it was after all poor management decisions that led to this situation, yet indications are that the NGO sector are expected to fundraise for the bulk of relocation costs (being the building of the enclosure and provision of food and vet care for the rest of the girls’ lives). If the NGO sector and general public are to raise the necessary funds, then surely the BTT must make this known officially, with a time line, with some sort of plan that we agree to?

There has been much in the social media about the four females returning to their “family” and remaining “wild and free” in the CGHNR. But which troop is the “family” troop? There has been recorded splitting within the GOB from as early as 2008, and by 2013 the Misty Cliffs troop was being recorded as a separate troop. If the natal troop of the 4 survivors is the Misty Cliffs troop, well they have all been killed; if the natal troop is GOB (and the girls do return to the GOB troop from time to time) then we can assume that the 3 adult females are probably lower ranking as it would be unusual for a high ranking female to leave her natal troop. Within either of these scenarios there is not much to suggest that the 4 individuals have strong bonds that would encourage them to stay with GOB and it is more likely that a young dispersing male would join them in Scarborough if the chance arose.

It must also be acknowledged that in the past 3 years the girls have become “residents” of the villages of Scarborough and Misty Cliffs; their offspring have been born in the villages and know no other life. For me it is dreadfully sad that this group has no semblance of normal baboon life – they do not spend time together unless at the sleep sites, they do not spend hours relaxing and grooming which is an important part of baboon social behaviour and activity. They do not get to forage on the intertidal zone, nor does the surviving juvenile Skye have troopmates to interact and play with and there is no male to safe guard the troop or to mate with. This unusual existence has lasted for nearly 3 years – why would anyone want this for baboon? For baboons, social structure, interaction – even the daily soap-opera squabbles – are all vitally
important. If you love baboons you would want them to have that life, not a life hiding out in a village, walking alone, being chased by paintball guns, herded to an area where you choose not to be.

So, for me the question is what is the best possible chance for these four baboons, who have no apparent bonds to GOB, to find some semblance of baboon life. If there was an electric fence, I don’t think the girls would re-join GOB permanently. As I suggested above, it is more likely that a young dispersing male would join the girls and they may continue as a small splinter troop.

If the electric fence was in place this should pose no real problem as the group would be within the reserve, but the TMNP has made it clear they do not wanted habituated baboons “teaching” non-habituated baboons to raid. The TMNP have indicated that they will not allow an habituated splinter troop to remain in the reserve and I have seen nothing to suggest the girls will unlearn their entrenched behaviour in such a way that could be acceptable to TMNP.

Although Baboon Matters would prefer all baboons to be free roaming and have agency to go where they want, when they want to; we recognise that the management options pursued by the BTT has created the situation whereby the four individual females will have little chance of joining a troop and living a “normal” baboon life unless it is within the safety of a sanctuary.

It is beholden on the BTT and residents to ensure that we provide the best possible scenario for them to live out their lives in such a sanctuary space and every effort must be made to ensure that there is a suitable enclosure and provision for food and vet care. Baboon Matters and other groups have been writing and objecting about the lack of a management plan and about the need to revise the systems, it must be clear that what happened to the Misty Cliffs troop is being played out in other scenarios – look at the Constantia troops as an example.

The lack of trust and transparency is a bitter reflection of the disparity between management and the public opinion; starting with the introduction of lethal protocol, exacerbated when 20 or 30 or 40 baboons went missing in Constantia in 2018 and now at a tipping point of frustration as we await the outcome of the Famous Four.

On Friday 1 November the CoCT hosted a feed-back meeting in Scarborough where we hoped the final decision for the four baboons would be made known. Presentations made by members of the Baboon Research Unit and the CoCT management reasoned that the four baboons could not remain living in the village and that although an electric fence was the preferred option there was not a required 60% resident buy-in to implement the electric fence. Without the electric fence the CoCT concluded that there were only two options available to the four; being relocation to a sanctuary (if one would agree to take them) or euthanasia. It was disappointing that after having waited so long for a public meeting the questions were limited to just 5 which clearly did not allow time to discuss or debate alternative options or the conclusion arrived at by the closed team.

We will keep you posted as this situation unfolds.

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Wildlife groups, I&APs and residents are calling for an immediate moratorium on killing baboons

Wildlife groups, I&APs and residents are calling for an immediate moratorium on killing baboons

In Cape Town, an immediate moratorium is now an urgent priority but a national moratorium is equally important when one considers, for example,  the incredibly high numbers of baboons killed in pine plantations monthly. 
For the moment, we want to focus on the Cape peninsula and the recent events that have resulted in this call to action.
Since it was implemented in 2010, Baboon Matters has opposed the Protocol for raiding baboons as we felt that the guidelines criminalise baboons, but in no way hold businesses, authorities or residents accountable to management of attractants that encourage baboons to come into human areas. Simply put, we understand more than most the difficulties of baboons in our homes but baboons are wild animals and the easy opportunities we create for baboons to take, meaning the more they will take them – baboons shouldn’t be classified as “criminals” because we forget to close the windows or put trash away securely, secure our property through means of considering the environment around and acting accordingly. 
Since the implementation of the Protocol, 74 baboons have been killed, yet there have been scant improvements to waste management, education or community awareness. The “baboon-proof” bins tendered by the City of Cape Town and delivered to key areas this year are proving problematic and are, reportedly, not baboon-proof.
Despite  the lack of overall improvement to waste management, and in the absence of any by-laws for baboon affected areas, 5 so-called “problem raiders” were killed in May and June, their main “crimes”  were listed as “being in the urban areas and acquiring human derived foods”; in other words getting food from our easily accessible trash. 

Making the issue even more urgent, and emotive, is the fact that the remaining four female baboons of the Misty Cliffs troop have been targeted for “euthanasia in terms of the protocol”.

The history of the Misty Cliffs troop is an horrific blot in the copybook of baboon management on the Cape peninsula. The Groot Olifantsbos (GOB) troop first became habituated to easy food rewards gained from Scarborough in early 2000; note that it took almost two years before monitors were employed to try and get the baboons out of the village, this was two years too long.
(Pay attention Hermanus and other villages – it is far harder to un-train clever baboons than it is to be proactive by employment of monitors and management of attractants to keep baboons out of urban areas.)
The main GOB troop spilt in 2012-13 and management had to contend with both the GOB and Misty Cliffs (MC) troops. Within overall management objectives, there had been little to no changes to policy or education – the game plan was use of aversion tactics and then removal of individuals…
So the MC troop was killed off – from 18 baboons down to just 3 adult females and 3 juveniles in April 2019. Then came the tragic road death of one juvenile, demonstrating just how vulnerable this small group are but it was the inexplicable death of the next juvenile, whose body was found floating in a swimming pool, that galvanized public outcry to save the remaining four baboons.

It is, perhaps, understandable that the authorities who sit on the BTT (Baboon Technical Team) have “gone to ground” as it were; baboon management came under fire in 2018 for the secretive issuance of hunting permits to two Cape wine estates (Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting) and the subsequent “disappearance” of 20 or 30 or 40 baboons – no report has ever been issued to explain what happened to the baboons and certainly there have been no real investigations or prosecution that we are aware of.

After the Constantia Killings had been leaked to the media, the BTT came under immense public scrutiny and the Baboon Liaison Group (supposedly representing the civic voice on baboon issues) simply disbanded. The BLG had not adequately fulfilled their role in reporting back to communities, but their total disappearance left a gaping hole in the flow of community input and public representation.

Key figures and groups in baboon management challenged the system and lack of accountability and in response Ward Councillor S. Leill-Cock hand-picked a few folk, dubbed them the CARBS (Councillor Appointed Reps Baboons South) and that was pretty much that. As far as we know there are no known purposes or objectives of the group and there have been no meetings between the CARBS and the BTT…

While the communities were lodging concerns and unhappiness, the machinations of the BTT quietly, carried on and in March 2019 a new protocol was silently slipped into place. The new protocol (link below) has substantially lowered the level of “acceptable” numbers of “raids” by baboons, and it is of concern to note that whereas in the original protocol “frequent raids” were noted at 5x per week; this has been dropped to now 4x per month! Category 3 (high risk behaviour) now allow for just one incident!

The problem with the protocol and its implementation is how incidents and “raids” are decided, the system seems inconsistent and influenced by complaints rather than accurate records of events.
The most recently killed baboon was Johnny Bravo, by all accounts a very unassuming character; but an unexpected appearance in a garden might be enough for some residents to phone the hotline and rant about an attacking baboon – is this fair or logical?
Regrettably it seems to happen all too often and many residents now do not want to call the official hotline in case their report is recorded as a complaint that may lead to the death of another baboon

How will the newly revised protocol affect baboons directly? According to the new criteria all four of the Misty Cliff girls should be “euthanised”, and for that matter so to should a great many baboons of the Da Gama and Waterfalls troops. What about the 6 baboons who hopped through a broken window into a local bakery and enjoyed gorgeous cakes – should they be killed too?

There undoubtedly is a great deal of emotion about the survival of the Misty Cliff four who have the limited choices of; electing to walk themselves back into the reserve (where they may be killed as were Slimkop, Moby, Sparky, Zamaka and others), or they can join “another troop” (not sure which one?) or they can stay in Scarborough (and then they will be killed in terms of the protocol).
The only slim chance that may offer long term solutions for these girls is if the proposed electric fence is approved by residents and all relevant landowners, that funding is made immediately available and that the BTT agree not to kill the girls while the fence is being installed.

The girls will not be given permits to go to a rehabilitation facility, sanctuary or any other land off the Cape peninsula.

And people are telling me the baboons “seem angry” at the moment – if I was a baboon I would be frankly furious!

But let’s remove the emotion and go back to the start, a call for a moratorium.
There is clear reason to stop killing baboons. Here are just two points; firstly there is enough demonstrable evidence to support the fact that a “landscape of fear”, aversion tactics and the killing of individual baboons has NOT solved the problem. 74 deaths demonstrate this. If the ideas had worked, baboons would be staying out of villages and none would be killed – clearly this is not the case

Secondly, the public do not want baboons killed and the authorities need to hear their voice. The issue has been raised many times over the years, but there is a new level of anger from the general public, they are frustrated at the lack of change, lack of transparency and on-going killing of baboons.

Baboon Matters and many other organisations are endorsing a letter to the BTT calling for an immediate moratorium of killing the Cape peninsula baboons. We will also be calling on the National Minister of Environment to implement a moratorium on killing baboons.

To inform all your own decision making, here are the original and revised protocols for baboon management, each can be found on these links:

Here’s what YOU can do to help Baboon Matters help baboons.



Getting a bite to eat at the “dirt” diner

Getting a bite to eat at the “dirt” diner

By Paula Pebsworth, PhD

M. Martin and P. Pebsworth collecting soil samples – Photo P Pebsworth

M. Martin and P. Pebsworth collecting soil samplesPhoto P Pebsworth

Did you know that people and other animals eat soil? Like, lots of animals and lots of soil?! I’ve studied soil eating for more than 10 years and still find this curious behavior absolutely fascinating. Soil eating is formally known as “geophagy” for non-human animals and “pica” for humans. It’s not eating a little bit of soil left on your fresh radishes – it’s purposely and deliberately eating soil. And it’s not just any old dirt. It’s special dirt that humans admit walking miles to reach because they crave it. Soil eaters can’t tell you why they crave soil, only that they do.

I study soil eating in monkeys and apes and I can’t tell you what goes through their minds but I think eating soil is like taking a multivitamin. Some days you need vitamin C from the mix, other days it’s potassium, and other days it’s like taking a Tums ®. I had the pleasure of moving with a large troop of chacma baboons for several years. During some seasons, they went to their favorite dirt dinner – every. single. day. That’s right – I said daily. It became clear that some individuals stayed there a long time while others dined and dashed. At the dirt diner – there was a couple of favorite “chairs”. If someone of higher rank was eating soil there, you had to wait your turn. This told me that they liked some soil better than others. As a good biologist, I tried the soil in several different places. I felt a bit like Goldilocks. One was too salty, one was too sandy, and one was just right – if soil in your mouth can be right. The “just right” soil was the one they waited their turn for. If you don’t believe me – see it for yourself here.

The other thing that surprised me was how long some of the pregnant females spent eating soil. My friends who study soil eating in humans have told me that there’s a strong association between soil eating and pregnancy. Hmmm….why might that be and what the heck can you get from eating dirt?!!

When I tell people about my research, they immediately tell me that animals must be eating soil for minerals. Well, maybe. The soil eaten by the troop of baboons that I studied was pink, ochre, and white. The preferred soil was white. Pink and ochre soil color usually indicates that it contains iron. If baboons ate the soil for iron then it would have to be available for the body. To test this idea, I used a fancy analysis to test whether the iron from the soil was bioavailable. Meaning that the stomach, small, and large intestine could break up the soil and the micronutrients found in the particles of clay could be released and absorbed by the body. It turned out that the iron wasn’t bioavailable and there was no difference in bioavailable iron between the pink and white soil. The iron was tightly bound inside small clay particles and the digestive process couldn’t break it up and free the iron. Obviously, some minerals are water soluble (like salt) so they are available but not all.

In addition to micronutrients, soil may be eaten because the fine clay particles commonly found in eaten soil can line the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – kind of like a mud mask. Soil can protect your GI tract from plant toxins, bacteria, and viruses. How do I know that you ask? Well, again I ran some tests in the lab and I measured plant toxins found in food eaten by the baboons. Then I measured the plant toxins again after I mixed it with the preferred soil and digested it under the same conditions of baboon stomachs. I found that the soil bound up tannins and alkaloids. This is great news as too many tannins can give you a stomach ache. Again, I suspect that soil eating serves a couple of purposes – micronutrients and protection. I’m not suggesting that we all start eating soil to cure what ails us, but I suspect that there will come a day when people will return to a simpler life without so many pharmaceutical drugs.
When that day comes, you might want to put some healing soil in your medicinal cabinet or grab a seat at your local dirt diner.

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Best seats at the Dirt Diner - Photo P Pebsworth

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Juvenile at Geophagy Site - Photo P Pebsworth

Adult female baboon eating soil  Photo P Pebsworth

Are baboons, like most humans, right hand dominant?

Are baboons, like most humans, right hand dominant?

by Jenni Trethowan

In 2018, Baboon Matters covered a huge range across SA and in our travels, I noticed a number of baboons with missing limbs, in itself, this is not uncommon. But the more I noticed, the more I became aware that a lot of the baboons we “noticed” were missing their right hand.

When we arrived at Augrabies Falls to break one long stretch in the journey, we all immediately went into the reserve and one of the very first animals we spotted, sitting alone on a rock, was a female baboon nursing a badly injured right arm – most of her hand was off, bitten? broken? snared? We will never know.

Adult female baboon at Auragbies Falls nursing badly injured right hand

Adult female baboon at Auragbies Falls nursing badly injured right hand

A few weeks later, we were in Sodwala and there in the distance was a troop running and I immediately spotted that one of the large males was missing his right hand.

Our journeys took us on into Kruger and one of the first baboons we saw was a female again nursing a badly damaged right hand.

Kruger National Park - missing front right hand

Kruger National Park – missing front right hand

Adult female at Kruger National Park - most of her right hand is missing

Adult female at Kruger National Park – most of her right hand is missing

By now my interest was really piqued and when I started going back over our records of injured baboons here on the Cape, the baboons with injured or missing right hands was quite obvious – John Travolta (Tokai), Penny (Da Gama), Crookie (Da Gama), Bafana (Da Gama) and Dodger to name some of the baboons that immediately sprung to mind, but there are other baboons from troops such as Millers Point and Plateau Road who suffered loss of limbs due to electric burns but as those troops were not actively managed at that time accurate records of all the baboon injuries were not kept.

Crookie with missing right hand

Crookie with missing right hand

Penny missing right hand

Penny missing right hand

To me this seemed to be noteworthy, why would baboons appear to have more injuries to their right hand than their left hand, to my thinking it could be because they use their right hands more?

But then my investigations took a different angle; Nikita (Knysna) was snared on her left arm, as was Beatrice (Plateau Road). Did this simply mean that Nikita and Beatrice are left hand dominant? Or that snared baboons are caught on their left side.

Nikita - Snared on her left hand

Nikita – Snared on her left hand

I find the idea fascinating and spoke to Luzanne Kratz from Prime Crew and she immediately confirmed that most of her injured baboons suffering hand or arm injuries have the injury to their right side, except for Deborah who was snared on her left arm.

Adding to the theory of right-hand dominance is the fact that when I notice baboons starting to become angry or frustrated with troop members, they commonly use their right hand to “slap” the ground or as a sign of agitation.

I am not in any way an academic, but I did attempt to read up on this subject through online primatology publications, and it seems that when eating or undertaking manual tasks baboons can easily use both hands, think of them eating seeds off the ground or pulling berries off a tree; they have complete ambidextrous ability.
Likewise, grooming is an intense activity where both hands are used equally, fighting usually engages both hands, although I have witnessed baboons administering a hard slap (using right or left hand???….. now you are asking)

Perhaps next time you are out and about and see baboons pay attention to any baboons who might be missing limbs, which hand they appear to use most (if at all) and please let me know.
It would be really interesting to see if there is some sort of thread to these random observations of ours.