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.

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



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.

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!

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