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.

Update on Hunting Permits in Constantia

Update on Hunting Permits in Constantia

Update on Hunting Permits in Constantia

by Jenni Trethowan

When the Constantia Bulletin broke the news on 4 July 2018 that Cape Nature had issued permits to two vineyards to hunt up to two baboons per day, there was shock and confusion – confusion as we had always believed that the Cape peninsula baboons were protected from hunting, and shock that permits issued for one year would allow 2 baboons per day to be hunted. But more than that, there was outrage that right here in our own backyards baboons were being killed by commissioned professional hunters.

Following on from a well-attended protest action and as a result of letters of demand issued by the Cape Party, Buitenverwachting voluntarily withdrew its permits, and we are told that subsequently Klein Constantia has also withdrawn their permit.

In the ensuing weeks there has been a great deal of activity but the overall situation reflects a lack of information and what seems to be a steadily increasing number of unaccounted for baboons.

Here is what we know:

When the story broke it was reported that 7 baboons had been killed and that the elderly and weak had been targeted to emulate predation. Secondary media articles noted that specific damage causing baboons had been targeted, and from communications it seems that a semi-paralyzed male, and elderly female and an “injured” baboon had been identified as “problem” baboons and were some of the seven baboons killed. It is not clear if baboons were being targeted as “damage causing” or to reduce overall numbers.

Note that at this stage we were getting information only from the media as the BTT made no public statement.

When the service provider report for June 2018 was released, there was no mention of hunting permits, only that “some baboons had been removed”. But it was noted that 20 baboons were “missing”.

The HWS July 2018 report and the Annual Report for 2018 gave updated population tables and the ground count and census undertaken in June 2018 by HWS staff. From these reports is was clear that the situation was worse than had been initially reported. The population table (pg. 10 of the Annual Report) shows that despite 37 deaths in the northern population from July 2017 – June 2018, it was expected that the population of the northern troops would be 255 baboons – yet only 211 baboons were found.

Of huge concern is the dramatic decrease in the numbers of adult male. In her census of 2015, E Beamish recorded 31 adult males, however the June 2018 count found only 7 adult males – a loss of 24 adult male baboons over 3 years!

So from initial reports of 7 baboons killed, we move from 20 “missing” baboons to now 40 “missing” baboons.

But we are also “missing” a great deal of information. I am not alone in requesting information – various animal welfare organizations, civic groups and many concerned individuals have written to all the authorities asking for facts. We have requested detail such as: minutes of meetings where is issuance of permits was discussed/agreed/debated; attendance registers and agenda; communication detailing which baboon deterrents had been trialed on the affected vineyards; why electric fences at two locations appear to have failed in comparison to the Zwaanswyk electric fence where baboons are kept out of the area for a reported 98.8% of time.

We asked for details of recorded damage caused by baboons that would have led to Cape Nature issuing seemingly unrestricted permits allowing 2 baboons to be killed per day for one year.

We have also requested detail of the hunts – when did they take place, what were the ages and sexes of baboons killed.

The Cape Animal Rights Forum has used the Public Access to Information Act (PAIA) and requested specific detail. In terms of the Act, the City of Cape Town, Cape Nature and TMNP have 90 days to supply requested information, so although the request was sent weeks ago, we do not expect any detailed response until the time limit is up in October.

But the collective animal welfare organizations’ have also been proactive in offering help to try and shed some light on what the City of Cape Town has referred to as a “phenomenon” – the 40 “missing” baboons.

Baboon Matters has volunteered to count the northern troops to establish an independent ground count, and our colleagues from Prime Crew have offered their valuable time to assist – one would have thought that the TMNP and BTT would have been grateful to have had a joint team effort with experienced staff to pool their knowledge and proactively take on the immediate and necessary hours of ground work at no cost or detriment to themselves.

But our request to the BTT was deferred to TMNP, who said they had their own research personnel who could undertake the work, yet have not. Our further offer to assist was referred back to the BTT and our subsequent direct request for permission to count the troops has been ignored thus far.

We have been asked why we need permission to count the baboons. Well TMNP has made it very clear to me that all visitors to the TMNP have to remain on designated paths at all times – or face prosecution. Clearly the baboons do not remain on designated paths and so we would need access to the baboons, wherever they roam, to effectively count them.

So, in conclusion – the numbers of baboons killed or “missing” has risen from 7 to 20 to now 39 or 40 (I remain unclear on the actual final figure). We have received minimal information from the BTT and requests for an investigation into the disappearance of 40 baboons who are managed during daylight hours, 365 days per year need to be addressed.

The City officials have not answered any communications sent by Baboon Matters in the past 3 – 4 weeks.

Baboon Management in Cape Town needs a Management Plan!

Baboon Management in Cape Town needs a Management Plan!

Modern-day problems require modern solutions …

by Jenni Trethowan

The recent furor surrounding the issuance of permits that allowed professional hunters to kill baboons on two Constantia vineyards has highlighted the biggest problem with baboon management on the Cape peninsula – that there is no management plan for this isolated population of chacma baboons.

It has been interesting to note that, typically, when issues to do with baboons arise, the City of Cape Town immediately issues a media release on behalf of the Baboon Technical Team, a “co-operative” arrangement between role players of the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park and Cape Nature who are guided by scientific input from the Baboon Research Unit of UCT and by welfare for the baboons from the Cape of Good Hope SPCA).

However, in the Constantia hunting case, there has been complete silence from the co-operative BTT, effectively leaving Cape Nature to defend the issuance of permits in isolation of overall baboon management on the Cape peninsula. We have witnessed individual role players actively diving for cover, denying knowledge of the permits or merely reiterating their mandates and roles in an attempt to defer any blame.

The BTT reportedly liaises with civic groups and residents through the Baboon Liaison Group and although neither the BTT nor the BLG have Terms of Reference, active constitutions or mandates, the two organizations meet regularly to discuss baboon management. However minutes of these meetings are continuously unavailable to the general public.

We are told that during the course of BTT/BLG meetings in 2017, the long held belief that baboons were protected from hunting on the Cape peninsula was dismissed and it was clarified that private landowners could in fact obtain permits to kill baboons through the permit process of Cape Nature. None of this information was conveyed to civic or interest groups.

Following on from the discussion of permits, it has been confirmed that at a meeting of both BTT and BLG on 9 November 2017, Cape Nature communicated the “issuance of permits” for two vineyards – Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting.

We are informed that all role players of both the BLG and BTT, including BRU and CGHSPCA were present at that meeting and all role players were aware that the vineyards could now use professional hunters to kill up to 2 baboons per day (according to the Cape Nature “bag limit”).

From media reports and discussions with some of the involved parties, it seems that both Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting felt that they had attempted all possible baboon- proofing and that there was no other solution available to them to resolve on-going conflicts.

Although the implementation of baboon-proofing and which aversion tactics were in fact utilized by the two vineyards can be questioned, it does seem that the only overall BTT “strategy” that exists, is to keep baboons away from humans – but how this “strategy” is accomplished appears to be at the discretion of individual land owners, leaving gaping holes in effective overall management.

The absence of an overall management plan, that should encompass the differing mandates, laws and regulations that govern the three authorities, has allowed the many differences of opinion and implementation of tactics to hamper effective long-term management.

In an open letter to the Constantia Bulletin, John Green, the long term chairman of the Baboon Liaison Group, denied any knowledge of the permits. In his letter he noted that successive fires had resulted in baboons coming closer to the urban edge and he specifically mentioned the fires of 2000, 2005 and 2015. He noted that the 2015 fire “had a huge additional impact: overnight the main food supply from the pines disappeared….”. John Green noted that after the 2015 fire the baboons “resisted moving up the mountain as the fynbos had been destroyed and the cold winter months were approaching.”

It would seem logical that the fires, the clear-felling of the plantation and the extreme drought, which would have impeded fynbos recovering after the fires, have all resulted in baboons seeking food in the lower plantations and in the vineyards. However, the chief scientific advisor to the BTT, Prof O’Riain stated that the fires “created a windfall of food, as the pine trees released their seeds …”.

From urine and fecal samples collected, the Baboon Research Unit was convinced that one month after the fire of 2015 the baboons were in a good nutritional state. It would be enlightening to see how their nutritional state has fared in the ensuing 36 months since the 2015 fires, with the clear felling removing a major food source and the drought stunting recovery of vegetation – have the baboons maintained a good ”nutritional state”? Are more recent findings available?

As the tendered service provider to the City of Cape Town, HWS provides monthly reports on the management of the ten troops under their care. The reports of 2017 into 2018 negated any concerns about food and water availability, and direct questions and concerns tabled to the conservation authorities were dismissed – we were told there was plenty of food and water for all ten troops.

Yet in the HWS annual report, Dr. Richardson makes specific mention of the impact of the fires, felling of pines and impact of the drought on vegetation – this is in direct contrast to their own monthly reports.

A key factor in strategizing and planning management of baboons should be sleep site areas, and on the Cape peninsula, baboons have utilized alien trees for not only food but also for sleep sites.

The Constantia Bulletin quoted Prof. O’Riain from a study published in 2011, whereby he warned the wine farmers that the “removal of pine trees on SANparks land through harvesting would result in baboons tracking the remaining large alien trees in the area. Given that most of those are on the wine farms, we warned of impending increase in baboon presence…….” . The statement goes on to say that BRU recommended removal of the alien trees, fencing and rangers. However, a recent visit to the area shows that the last groves of alien trees are all on the boundaries of the vineyards, or within the farms, and it seems that the troops actively use the areas as roosting sites – clearly such close proximity to the farms could see an increase in conflicts.

Buitenverwachting and Klein Constantia maintain that they have, collectively, installed 5,5km of electric fencing to keep the baboons out of their properties. From comments made by the vineyards, it seems, that trees on TMNP land frequently fall onto their fence line thereby allowing baboons access onto their lands.

If TMNP already has a policy of clear-felling, it would seem to make more sense, as part of an overall baboon management plan, to remove pines closest to the urban area first and leaving some temporary stands of pines on the upper stretches of the plantations, thus encouraging baboons to go back up the mountain for some food and also providing roosting sites away from farms and habitation.

However, SANparks are managing their land to the exclusion of all alien vegetation – regardless of impact on animals who have adapted to the trees over very extended periods of time, the lack of transitionary plans does appear to have impacted negatively on the baboons and the knock-on effect could be the increase in conflict with the vineyards.

The one common denominator in baboon management appears to be baboon rangers. The City of Cape Town employs a service provider whose rangers do their best to keep baboons out of urban areas. Yet even this service falls foul to differing mandates and implementation – the rangers work daily in Da Gama Park and Waterfall Barracks (Navy owned land), they traverse large tracts of privately owned land (such as Baskloof Nature Reserve, Solole and Kompaniestuin) to keep tabs of their various managed troops.

The City employed rangers work in residential areas (frequently going onto privately owned property) and on herd the troops on TMNP land daily – yet they are not “mandated” to work on the wine farms meaning that the service provider is left waiting for baboon troops outside the vineyards and are reliant on vineyard staff to work effectively to get the baboons safely out of the vineyards..

The problem with differing land owners working to their own mandates, rules and regulations is that there is no cohesive baboon management plan – badly managed waste on Navy land attracts baboons into the area; food waste attracts baboons into light industrial areas of Fish Eagle Park, and pine trees are a preferred roosting site and provide food – but the expectation is that as long as those attractions are on your land you must manage the situation.

For baboons the consequences of human mismanagement are dire – if baboons trespass or become “problematic” in their efforts to get to food, sleep sites or even water points – they can be killed. The Cape peninsula baboons face a variety of violent and aggressive outcomes, surrounded as they are by dense urbanization . Death by professional hunters, TMNP snipers, shot by pellet guns, mauled by dogs, hit by a car or electrocuted – not great options for our chacmas!

A grim observation is that when baboon management first stated in 2001, there were minimal budgets – the biggest allocation coming in 2007 of approximately R800 000, almost R8500 per “managed baboon” pa. However, in recently presented management data Prof. O’Riain stated the current R12 million p.a. equates to R25 000 per baboon pa.

Until mid-2009 only three (Slangkop, Da Gama and Scarborough) of the ten troops had daily monitors and management, and despite the restricted management an average of 26 baboons were killed annually on the Cape peninsula, with approximately 40% of deaths as a result of humans – cars, dogs and pellet guns being the main causes of deaths (E. Beamish Thesis 2010).

Conversely for the period 2012 – 2018, the numbers of baboons killed annually has almost doubled, with an average of 52 baboons killed p.a. Although the Human Induced Deaths (HID) may have dropped in the last two years, the numbers of deaths due to unknown causes have increased dramatically from 1 unknown cause in 2012 to 13 unknown causes in 2018. It seems unusual to be unable to cite the cause of death in daily managed troops and the fact that this category has risen so dramatically is cause for concern, and also cause to question the veracity of reporting.

What the figures seem to be showing us is that bigger budgets and more aggressive tactics have resulted in more deaths annually than in the period 2002 – 2009, suggesting that although there is a lot more money allocated, an encompassing management plan is desperately needed.

There has been talk of a steady population growth, yet this growth is contained mainly in the northern sector where the 4 troops have increased by 79 baboons over the 5.5 years of currently recorded data. In real terms this equates to an average increase of just 3 baboons per troop per annum.

In the six troops of the south, for the same period of 2012 to 2018, the total increase is 30 baboons – an average of 5 baboons per annum, over 6 troops. This slow population “increase” is evident in the Groot Olifantsbos troop, for example, where there was not one recorded birth over a three year period.

The baboon population must be viewed in light of ever encroaching urbanization as well as a realistic review of available natural forage after the successive fires and climate change impacts to the fynbos. Although previous studies indicate that the carrying capacity for baboons was much higher than the current population, these studies may need to be reviewed.

If the carry capacity of available land is indeed marginalized by landscape change there needs to be proactive planning in place now and successful birth control strategies need to be implemented before the population is deemed to be “out of control”. Immunocontraception has been used successfully in primate rehabilitation facilities, elephant herds and many wildlife management projects and could be implemented on the Cape peninsula instead of lethal management tools – this would be an effective way to ensure that the population does not exceed the carrying capacity of available land.

The lack of accountability for overall baboon management appears to suit the role players very well and the debatable decision handed down in the high court ruling of 2016 has merely endorsed an unwritten co-operative agreement that is not backed up by a documented and cohesive management plan.

The Table Mountain National Park is one of only two national parks surrounded by urban areas in the world and it is clear that managing an open access park will present many challenges not only for the park but also for the landowners abutting the park. It is essential that the buffer zone is implemented and that the co-operative agreement is translated into a meaningful management plan so that there is clear accountability and transparency.

The role-players of the Baboon Technical Team need to realise that the modern age, problems facing the isolated population of chacma baboons need modern solutions and that the outdated lethal management options are no longer acceptable to the general public who are increasingly aware of more ethical and sustainable alternatives.

Cape Town baboon management:  How legal is it?

Cape Town baboon management: How legal is it?

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 julia.wood@capetown.gov.za, ebaard@capenature.co.za and lesley-ann.meyer@sanparks.org