Public move in defence of baboons

Animal-rights organisations protested on Saturday over what they say was the secrecy that cloaked the hunting of baboons on Constantia Valley wine farms.

Seven baboons have been reported killed since CapeNature issued hunting permits to Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting wine farms in October last year. (“Scant support for hunting of baboons,” Echo, July 12).

But it was only nine months later – through an anonymous tip-off to the Bulletin, the Echo’s sister paper, -that news of the hunting was made public and subsequently confirmed by CapeNature and the wine farms.

About 80 animal-rights activists were at the protest, held at Constantia Village and organised by the Cape Animal Rights Forum, Toni Brockhoven of Beauty Without Cruelty, and Baboon Matters founder Jenni Trethowan.

Ms Trethowan handed over a memorandum to Cape Party representative Yvette Huysamer, who said they had put CapeNature on notice to nullify the permits letting farms hunt two baboons a day.

Ms Huysamer claimed that under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) baboons were listed as protected animals and hunting them was illegal. However, the City’s website says the animals can be hunted with a permit.

Ms Huysamer said that due to the fires, the drought and deforestation at Tokai, the baboons’ food had been decimated. She suggested establishing feeding stations to draw them away from the farms, followed by the sterilisation of some of the female baboons.

But Professor Justin O’Riain, director of UCT’s Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa disagreed. He said far from from destroying the baboons’ food, the fires actually created a windfall of food, as the pine trees released their seeds in response to the heat.

“Thus instead of having to open the pine cones using their considerable strength, they could simply pick them off the forest floor. The baboons were in a better nutritional state one month after the fire than in the previous year at the same time.”

Professor O’Riain added that sterilisation was a bad idea as it was extremely invasive and costly. However, contraception was worth investigating in the long term.

Feeding stations and sterilisation together was the worst idea – feeding the troops would increase fecundity and sterilisation will drop it – so these measures were counter to each other.

He said troops in Tokai had been growing by 8% annually, according to research by Esme Beamish of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa.

“This growth is more than double a wild troop living in a productive landscape and reveals that food is not a limiting factor for this population but rather it is the driver of growth.

“Feeding stations will increase the growth even faster and exacerbate current conflict.” He said relocation was not approved by CapeNature because it is stressful for the baboon(s) and for the receiving population and it presents risks of disease to the receiving population as peninsula baboons have been exposed to many human pathogens and they have also learnt to raid.

And landowners in the Western Cape did not need a permit should they wish to shoot baboons, provided they had a hunting licence, they could shoot two baboons a day. They did not have to show that they had exhausted non-lethal options like peninsula farmers had had to do.

Ms Huysamer said they wanted a written undertaking from the wine farmers that they would not kill anymore baboons. Failing that, they would take the farmers to court.

Buitenverwachting owner Lars Maack said they had withdrawn their hunting permit following the Bulletin story and Klein Constantia’s farm manager Craig Harris said they still had their permit but had no intention of using it.

However, Ms Huysamer has called on consumers to boycott both Buitenverwachting and Klein Constantia.

The memorandum was signed by various animal-rights activists and groups.

The Baboon Technical Team (BTT) comprises SANParks, City of Cape Town, CapeNature and the SA Navy with meetings attended by UCT Baboon Research Unit, the SPCA, civic organisations and wine farmers. And yet they all deny any knowledge of the permits.

Mayco member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, said that between 2006 and 2008, about 15 baboons had been killed annually by shooting, poisoning or road deaths.

“During this time, contact between humans and baboons had been encouraged through walking tours with baboons and filming them. As the baboons became less afraid of humans, raiding increased and angry residents retaliated,” said Mr Herron.

Since 2010 the Baboon Technical Team (BTT) had implemented a more scientific management approach of using baboon rangers to keep peninsula baboons wild and safe and away from urban areas.

Since then baboon deaths caused by humans had been reduced by more than a third. In 2006 there were 377 baboons on the peninsula in 10 troops compared to 600 baboons in 16 troops by September 2017.

Mr Maack and Mr Harris said they had worked closely with Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS), the City’s baboon management contractor and also part of the BTT, to prevent baboons entering the approximately 5.5km border of their properties.

Many at Saturday’s protest felt the baboons were paying the price for unchecked development and human greed.

Few offered any real solutions for the farmers, other than using specially trained dogs and maintaining the electric fences.

Mr Harris said using dogs to deter baboons had been suggested before but the SPCA had a problem with it.

Both farmers say maintaining fences is what they do daily but the baboons still jump the fences. They are both open to ideas of how to deal with the baboons.

Professor O’Riain said that following a study on the Tokai baboons published in 2011 wine farmers in the region had been warned that the removal of the pine trees on SANParks land through harvesting would result in the baboons tracking the remaining large alien trees in the area.

“Given most of these are on the wine farms, we warned of a pending increase in baboon presence and proposed that they remove large alien trees from their property and consider bolstering non-lethal options including fencing and field rangers,” said Professor O’Riain.