Collared baboons outrage residents

A collared female baboon grooming another baboon.

A project fitting Da Gama Park baboons with bulky electronic collarsto gauge their behaviour patterns has outraged residents.

The collars are part of a study – which is a collaboration between Swansea University and UCT – looking at the causes of raiding behaviour in the troop that frequents the Da Gama Park and Welcome Glen areas.

Baboon management has long been a sensitive issue and in July, public outcry forced a Constantia wine farm, Buitenverwachting, to withdraw a hunting permit after it emerged that CapeNature had issued it and Klein Constantia licences to kill up to two primates a day (“Scant support for hunting of baboons,” Echo, July 12).

In recent weeks, baboons of the Da Gama troop have been seen wearing the collars, which seemed to restrict their movement and cause chafing of the neck.

Welcome Glen resident, Sandy Maytham said she had seen two baboons wearing the collars, one was an alpha male she and her husband were familiar with.

“The collar was very big, and I could see the fur underneath the collar was chafed away and the skin was red,” she said.

A few days later, she noticed a female with a baby across the road from her house.

She said it was clear the collar restricted the female baboon’s head movement as it could not put its head down to reach the head of the baby

“I understand the need for research, but it could be done in a more humane way,” she said.

Ms Maythan has lived in the Welcome Glen area for 12 years and she believes it is the homeowners’ responsibility to “baboon proof” their homes.

“We cut our cherry tree down and have locks on our bins. We have also asked the City to collect our bins early so it doesn’t attract baboons,” she said.

AnotherWelcomeGlen resident, Lorna Thomas, also reported seeing baboons with chafe marks and sounding hoarse – conditions she attributed to the collars.

She said the troop slept on the roof of a block of flats in Da Gama Park flats and were chased away from the building daily by paintball marker guns.

Another Welcome Glen resident, Suzanne van der Merwe, said she realised research was necessary but questioned the need for such large and uncomfortable-looking collars.

“If they can tag fish and dolphins with small devices, why can’t they do the same with the baboons?”

But according to Swansea University behavioural expert and lead researcher on the programme, Dr Andrew King, the collars weigh 460g, less than a block of butter, and, on average, represent 2.2% of the baboon’s body mass.

Soft calfskin leather was used for the inside of the collar and special 3D-printed plastic housed the sensors; the collars were fitted with great care, so as not restrict movement, and the collared baboons were monitored daily.

He said it was common knowledge in the South Peninsula that baboons raided farms, homes and commercial properties and even entered cars to find food. This behaviour threatened human health and safety and was also risky for the baboons, with dozens killed by humans annually. Sixteen Da Gama troop baboons were wearing the collars for two months, he said, after which they would drop off automatically.

Dr King said collaring most of the adults in the troop would give a good idea of raiding levels and help to find non-lethal ways to keep baboons out of urban areas.

The collars record the behaviour of individuals and track movement by using accelerometer and GPS technology.

Dr King said the collars were larger in size because of the release mechanism that obviated the need to re-capture the baboons to remove the collars.

Dr King has studied baboons in southern Africa since 2004 and has spent nearly 4 000 hours following baboons around trying to answer questions about their behaviour and ecology.

He said the baboons would investigate the collars in the first hours after they had been fitted but then ignore them.

The SPCA does not deal
with cases involving wildlife, unless there is proven cruelty or abuse, which its spokeswoman Belinda Abraham said could be reported by calling 021
700 4158/9 during office hours or 083 326 1604 after hours. for more information about Dr King’s project.

* Each collar contains

1) A GPS tracking device

2) A motion sensor

3) A single D-cell battery

4) An automatic release mechanism obviating the need for recapture.

The battery and motion sensor sit at the bottom of the collar, the GPS
at the top, and the release mechanism at the side.