Kataza captured for move to Limpopo rehab centre

Kataza raiding a home for food.

The male chacma baboon, SK11, known as Kataza, is facing a final move: this time to a rehabilitation centre in Limpopo.

On Thursday, January 7, the City of Cape Town said it had met with the Cape of Good Hope SPCA to discuss the future of the baboon, which has not reintegrated with its natal Slangkop troop in the Kommetjie area.

The story of Kataza’s move from Kommetjie to Tokai, of the baboon being lured back to Kommetjie unofficially, and then the saga of the primate’s interrupted integration with the Tokai group sparked heated debates among animal-rights activists and scientists and threats of legal action.

Noordhoek lawyer Ryno Engelbrecht accused the City of animal cruelty and threatened to take it to court unless it returned Kataza to Kommetjie. At first, the City said it would defend its decision but later rolled over and returned the baboon to Kommetjie in November.

Mr Engelbrecht said that the bottom line was that Kataza was not integrating in any of the troops and had been left alone to raid properties for far too long. “His raiding is continuing, which is a danger to himself and others.“

Esme Beamish, an expert in baboon behavioural ecology, said when Kataza was captured in Tokai and placed on the back of a bakkie, he was, to everyone’s surprise, followed by the troop for over a kilometre – a behaviour indicating his acceptance by and social importance to the troop.

“However,“ she added, ”his urban raiding habits, a result of excessive habituation to people and human food acquired in the south during lockdown, were not easily unlearned.“

The baboon’s raiding behaviour was discussed at a meeting on January 5 between the City’s baboon stakeholders and the SPCA. It was agreed that the baboon had failed to reintegrate with the Slangkop troop since its return.

Ms Beamish said Kataza had been monitored from Kommetjie to Capri to Da Gama, Sun Valley and Fish Hoek. She said apart from just over a week socialising with the Da Gama troop and fighting with the alpha male, the baboon had spent 52 of its 60-day sojourn in the south, alone – by choice.

“Most of this time has been spent in and around houses, shops and gardens, reinforcing the bad habits he acquired in Kommetjie. Entering occupied houses on multiple occasions daily is a sad indicator of his excessive habituation to the human environment. His behaviour highlights the simple fact that single male baboons cannot be prevented from entering urban areas using any of the approved methods. Hence the management focus remains on troops,” she said.

A decision was made that if the baboon reached Tokai on its own accord by Monday January 11, it would be allowed to integrate and its raiding behaviour would be monitored.

However, that did not happen, and, on Tuesday, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA applied to CapeNature for a permit to have Kataza moved to the Riverside rehabilitation centre run by primatologist Bob Venter in Limpopo. At the centre, Kataza will be gradually introduced to a new troop and rehabilitated before being released into the wild. The SPCA is willing to absorb all the costs involved in the relocation of Kataza.

In a statement, the SPCA said it had sought the permit in the best interests of Kataza, the other animals in the area and the residents.

Ms Beamish said that, however well-intentioned, the “ill-informed and misguided” actions and proposals of animal-activist lobby groups had achieved little other than reduce the time and money available to improve the welfare and conservation of baboons and other wildlife on the peninsula.

“If Kataza leaves a legacy,” she said, “it is that befriending a baboon is not only bad for the baboon but for the community, who will remain divided on how best to manage that baboon in urban areas.”

She said that relocation to a primate sanctuary had limitations. “Even if Kataza is rehabilitated from urban foraging, he cannot be released into the wild, because there are genetic differences between the Cape chacma baboons and those in Limpopo and disease transmission would be a risk,” she said.

Chief Inspector Jaco Pieterse of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA said on Monday January 18 that Kataza had been safely darted and captured ahead of his relocation. This after Cape Nature granted a permit on Thursday last week, for Kataza to be moved to the rehabilitation centre.

“Kataza is currently being kept at a place of safety where he will undergo several health tests before making his way to Limpopo – the test results are pending. As soon as he has a clean bill of health, he will be on his way to his new home,” Mr Pieterse said.

Kataza had been in danger as the baboon had spent most of its time in the urban area, and there had already been gunshots fired at it, he said. He said the SPCA was calling on the authorities to speed up changes to Cape Town’s baboon protocols.