Managing baboons

Jenni Trethowan, Baboon Matters Trust

The issue of baboons and the management needed to manage the baboon human interface is a longstanding and ongoing issue, yet to date there are no relevant by-laws in place, no appropriate baboon-proof bins (for either residents or passing traffic) and the education provided is largely due to the work of NGOs and community groups rather than the relevant authorities (“Baboons – Nature vs Nuisance”, False Bay Echo, July 23).

I was interested to read that Justin O’Riain, of UCT and the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), was quoted as stating that “there had always been management plans and they evolved with the changing circumstances on the peninsula”.

I have been requesting a copy of the comprehensive management plan for the Cape Peninsula baboon population for years now, even resorting to PAIA applications, but no plans have ever been provided and the last comprehensive management plan was authored by Kansky and Gaynor in 2002. If this is the only document, then surely it is time for it to be updated.

Instead of a management plan, the only documents I have been provided are guidelines and protocols that have no legal standing and are there merely to “guide” day-to-day management decisions. As a result of these guidelines and protocols, almost 80 baboons have been executed for categories such as entering homes, successive bin raiding and taking food from people. I would not, therefore, regard the policy as a non-lethal management approach.

Members of the Baboon Technical Team tout a “science based” approach which informs and guides management decisions. The scientists sanctioned the development of a “landscape of fear” through the use of paintball guns, bear bangers and now the virtual fence – yet, to date, the scientists have not provided any published, peer-reviewed data that supports the efficacy of paintballs and bear bangers, and there is no data (other than that provided by the service provider) that supports the use of the virtual fence.

As the virtual fence is being “sold” to municipalities of the Overstrand to be deployed in biospheres and nature reserves, it appears that none of the researchers have considered the impact of the sound explosions on other wildlife. Selective science then?

Management options explored include: lethal management by executing individual baboons, pain aversion through paintballs and sound explosions through bear bangers and a virtual fence, but the research has overlooked the significantly diminished home range areas, water availability and impacts of successive fires on vegetation.

It seems that the only non-violent approach (provisioning or enrichment of areas) is not contemplated on grounds that it may lead to an “increase in numbers and increased conflicts”?

To put the concerns about an increase in population into context, consider the two troops who have continual access to human-derived food (high reward food) on an almost daily basis. The Da Gama troop and Slangkop troop have access to food thrown into waste bins, from the food factories and from gardens; they are in effect being provisioned already, yet in the past 20 years the Da Gama troop has only increased by 27 baboons, just over 1 baboon per year and in the same 20 years, the Slangkop troop increased by 13 – less than one baboon per year. So easy access to high-reward foods does not appear to have hugely altered the population at all.

How would carefully planned provisioning be worse than allowing baboons to gain foods found in our waste?

I am sure that both residents and scientists alike would prefer as natural a state as possible for our baboons, I know I would. But realistically, that is just not the case. In reality, the baboons are herded and contained in areas that are most manageable in order for the service provider to meet the terms of the contract.

Since the scientists and management have considered aggressive and lethal management and since it seems that the idea of relocating the baboons to suitable land off the peninsula has no traction with the relevant authorities, why not at least try another method?

Recently the municipalities of various areas, the scientific advisers and service providers have met with communities and interested and affected parties in a series of meetings. From social media commentary, it seems that the clear message from the communities is that they are not accepting the draconian style of management handed down by the municipalities and City of Cape Town.

Baboon Matters and many other groups, communities and concerned residents have been calling for a workshop to review and revise the current guidelines and protocols – this process could result in a compromise management plan that is so desperately needed.

Why are the City of Cape Town and
its advisers so reluctant to engage in an inclusive workshop process?