Baboons: nature vs nuisance

A baboon in Kommetjie tucks into treats provided by residents.

Baboons in Kommetjie are at the heart of a growing problem, and are caught between people setting dogs on them, feeding them and shooting at them with pellet guns.

Kay Montgommery, of the City’s Baboon Technical Team, said a male baboon, SK12, had to be euthanised on Wednesday July 15 after his pellet gun wound turned septic.

“There is speculation that SK12 may have drunk a bottle of hand sanitiser before being found. He recovered under care at the veterinarian, but then went down again over the next week,” Ms Montgommery said.

Attacks on baboons by dogs are becoming more common. The City of Cape Town’s Baboon Ranger report notes that youths from Ocean View had been seen chasing the baboon troop, with a dog, on Saturday May 23.

According to the same report, earlier in May a juvenile and an old female with an infant were injured when two dogs attacked the troop. The juvenile sustained minor injuries and was monitored until it fully recovered, but the adult female was very badly hurt. She and her dependent infant were euthanised for humane reasons as a result.

Kommetjie resident Bradley Thorsen said the baboons had turned to the sleepy suburb in the last few months for easy pickings, causing “carnage”, going through refuse, raiding the superette for biscuits and invading homes.

“There must be half a million rand worth of damage to the area,” he said. “They dent cars, break DStv dishes and solar panels, break gutters and roofs.”

Kommetjie was divided between those who felt the baboons should be free to roam around and those shooting at them with pellet guns.

Human Wildlife Solutions, a City baboon-management contractor, is working on a virtual fence that uses loud hailers to transmit the sounds of baboon predators to deter the primates.

Julia Wood, from the City’s environmentalmanagement department, said Human Wildlife Solutions had set up the virtual fence behind Kommetjie. They had also fitted an adult male baboon, SK10, with an electronic collar and would use readings from it to track troop movements.

Kommetjie lay between the Slangkop troop’s sleeping sites, making it hard to keep the baboons out of the town, especially if people left doors and windows open and didn’t secure their refuse, she said.

“The pull of human-derived foods is currently stronger than the threat of the fence,” she said.

However, Mr Thorsen noted that there were no baboon-proof bins in the area. Ms Wood confirmed that and said the City had put out a tender for them. In the meantime, it had removed the green municipal bins that weren’t baboon proof.

Three baboon troops, Slangkop, Waterfall and Da Gama, have been sleeping on, or close to, the edge of Kommetjie.

The City’s Baboon Ranger reports, released monthly, showed 150 calls to the hotline during April, of which 117 were raid-related calls.

In March there were 131 calls. Most of the calls for April were from Kommetjie (57), with 18 calls from Simon’s Town and 12 from Welcome Glen.

During May, the Slangkop troop were noted moving through Kommetjie 23 times, and 250 calls were placed to the hotline, of which 191 were raid-related calls. Kommetjie residents placed 89 calls with Welcome Glen recording 34 and Simon’s Town, 28.

Jenni Trethowen, of Baboon Matters, lives in Kommetjie and said she saw the baboons almost daily. Effective waste management and specific by-laws were needed and, possibly, water provisioning for the baboons on Slangkop in dry summer months, she said.

“I would also suggest no paintballs being used and a properly run trial for provisioning the baboons for a limited time.”

She does not believe there is a long-term plan for the baboons in the current management strategy, and said growing urbanisation was pressing in on the baboon’s home ranges.

She said the City should buy suitable land where the three troops could be relocated to.

“It could be done and is the only truly long-term option for some of the troops.”

Esme K. Beamish, of UCT’s department of biological sciences, has worked in baboon management for 15 years. She said provisioning was internationally acknowledged to result in increased growth in primate numbers and an associated increase in human conflict.

Baboons were opportunistic and exploited any gap if the reward outweighed the cost, she said.

“Baboon management in South Africa and globally, has never had such a comprehensive and science-based approach with the welfare of the baboon as the goal.”

Professor Justin O’Riain, of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa and director of UCT’s department of zoology, said there had always been management plans and they evolved with the changing circumstances on the peninsula.

Cape Town was the only city that invested substantially in a non-lethal management plan for keeping a wild animal out of urban areas, he said.