Any of our readers that work in animal welfare or conservation will appreciate the highs and lows that come with the territory. For us, this week has been a prime example.

Farmers have a tough job fraught with all kinds of risks. Their margins are small and they must do everything they can to protect their produce. Historically, baboons have been seen and treated as vermin – this attitude can be found throughout South Africa and other countries where baboons are endemic.

Baboon Matters is not just trying to change attitudes about baboons, but to highlight the fact that society has become completely disconnected from nature as a whole. The fact that we are so disconnected from baboons, with whom we share so much of our DNA, just emphasizes the extent of the problem.

During the past week we have been faced with two very different situations and attitudes to baboons. The first was overwhelmingly positive – we visited Ayama Wines near Paarl, where Michela and Attilio Sfiligoi are producing world-class wines. Perhaps it is because they originally farmed in Italy, where there aren’t any baboons, before moving to South African 8 years ago, but they have a completely different attitude to these animals than most South African farmers.

They take a real delight in seeing the baboons in the vineyards, and have celebrated their primate neighbors by producing a range of wine in their honour. They admit that the baboons cause some damage, but certainly not enough to justify killing them, and the troop is easily scared off. It just takes some vigilance. They face the same problem with buck nibbling on their Italian lettuce and cabbages – their solution is simply to plant enough to share!

Two days later we faced the other end of the spectrum – a farmer that was killing baboons in the most cruel way imaginable.  After luring the baboons into a cage, he shot two of them, and left the remaining traumatized creatures in the cage, presumably in the hopes that their terrified shrieks would lure the rest of the troop.

We are pragmatic about baboons.  We know they can cause terrible damage, and if all other options have proved unsuccessful, we understand there will be instances where baboons need to be removed.   This is not the case in this situation, but when it is the only remaining solution it must be done as quickly and humanely as possible.  It seems this particular farmer went out of his way to create as much fear and trauma as he could, and that is completely unacceptable. There will be legal consequences for this man, but while baboons remain an unprotected species these consequences will probably amount to nothing more than slap on the wrist.

There have been some positive outcomes from this case though.   For the first time there has been real collaboration between Baboon Matters and Cape Nature, which is important because Cape Nature has the teeth required to ensure successful prosecutions.  In addition, we have been engaging with the Farmers Forum, who do not like this kind of cruelty giving the farming industry a bad name, and will be exerting pressure on this farmer to change his ways.

Perhaps this peer pressure will be more successful in creating meaningful change than our judicial system.


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