Petition started to bring Kataza home

Kataza, the baboon.

The relocation of a baboon from Kommetjie to Tokai has drawn a public backlash, but scientists say it’s standard practice and that it’s people’s desire to treat baboons like pets that poses the real danger to the primates.

Human Wildlife Solutions, the City of Cape Town’s baboon-management contractor, relocated the baboon, called Kataza or SK11, from the Slangkop troop in Kommetjie to the Zwaanswyk troop in Tokai on Wednesday August 26.

A petition calling for the baboon to be returned to Slangkop troop has since drawn 5 500 signatures.

Julia Wood, from the City’s environmental management department, said the baboon had been moved because it had tried to form a splinter group with seven females that would have led to in-breeding.

But the move prompted Kommetjie resident Odette Peiser to start the petition. She claimed the move broke up a family unit and could cause conflict between the baboon and humans that
could lead to the creature being killed.

She called on Marian Nieuwoudt, the mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, to stop the “continued persecution of baboons at the behest of a contractor that is failing in having the interests of the people and the animals at heart”.

Ms Nieuwoudt said baboon-human conflict was dangerous and needed to be prevented and that the City’s baboon management was based on scientific research.

“Nobody wants to harm the baboons, but they are very dangerous animals, and once they have learned and prefer to locate to urban areas and we cannot get them back to stay in their natural habitat, we have no choice but to take them away. It is really a management decision for the greater good for animals and humans.”

While people had deep appreciation for the “majestic” animals, anthropomorphising them, that is attributing human characteristics to them, caused them harm in the long run, she said.

“Once we personalise them by giving them names, lure, accommodate or entice them to promote human-baboon interaction, this interference leads to a change in their behaviour, and, at the end, a problem animal.”

She added: “They are wild animals, and we must not treat them as pets”.

Ms Wood said an animal-rights activist had tried to stop rangers capturing an injured baboon on Monday. The baboon had subsequently been captured and euthanised because it had had a broken femur.

Professor Justin O’Riain, from UCT, is the director of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife (iCWild). He said there was nothing unusual about moving wild animals to a new area.

“It is called metapopulation management, and it is done primarily to ensure the genetic health of geographically isolated sub-populations. Imagine if every time a cheetah was relocated there was an uproar like this,” he said.

“While it is stressful for a rhino to be captured and moved to a new reserve, if that move brings fresh genes to a population, then the bigger goal is realised.”

Animal-rights activists had been “illegally tracking and pursuing” SK11 since Saturday to photograph his movements, he said.

“SK11 was sighted by baboon rangers – who do have a permit – with several female baboons in the Tokai troop on Sunday, August 31,” he said.

Most animal-rights activists, he said, held animal rights to be equal to human rights with a focus on individual animals and not the species or the environment.

“The animal-rights groups condemn euthanasia as a scientific wildlife management tool, even when large raiding male baboons are terrorising families in baboon-affected suburbs.”

It was recognised internationally, he said, that the philosophy of animal rights was “incompatible with science-based conservation and management of wildlife”.

In a 2012 open letter to the Cape Times, following her visit to Cape Town the year before, Dr Shirley C. Strum, professor of biological anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, said she was “scandalised” by the publicity campaign mounted by activists whom she accused of thwarting appropriate methods of deterrence.

“The epitaph of these baboons will read: ‘Met an untimely end because activists could not face reality’…. The future of the Cape baboons is being endangered by the very people shouting the loudest against the only appropriate methods we have now. If deterrence had been used successfully earlier, there would be no need to kill any baboons today.”

She cared about baboons as much as the activists did but would sacrifice some to save the whole if that is what it took, she wrote.

Professor O’ Riain meanwhile stands by his suggestion that a baboon-proof fence, such as the one installed eight years ago by Zwaanswyk residents, can end much of the conflict between baboons and humans in Kommetjie.

“Only the Kommetjie community can end this cycle by choosing to fence the Slangkop troop into the status of good neighbours,” he said.