Surprise put to sleep for ‘humane reasons’

Surprise, an injured baboon of the Da Gama Park troop, lies on a branch, as a tree feller makes preparations to lower him to the ground.

The Da Gama troop of baboons have lost another member of their group with the recent death of the young adult male called Surprise (DG17).

The young male baboon had become a bit of a local celebrity.

The day before the fires in January this year, Surprise was captured to be collared by Human Wildlife Solutions (HWC), the company contracted to manage troops on the peninsula.

In turn, he missed the fire that devastated large parts of the Da Gama troop’s foraging area.

When he was returned, he was seen sitting and staring for a long time at the blackened landscape. He was perceived by many residents as having a laid-back nature and his sightings would light up social media.

In one photo, in 2016, he was seen sitting on the bench of an outdoor table in a residential gar-
den.

He was noticed recently with a gash on his leg, and people rallied to get him medical attention.

On Sunday October 22, tree fellers were called in to help lower Surprise from the tall tree in a suburban garden, where he had been lying for three days.

Lorna Thomas, a concerned resident, said that on Sunday he was virtually immobile, apart from occasional spasms of the limbs.

“About two weeks prior Friday, when his condition was said to deteriorate, residents in Da Gama Park had noticed the bad gash on his leg and called for help for Surprise, as did those on social media,” Ms Thomas said.

During his rescue, a strap was placed around his ankle, and he was lowered by the tree fellers by means of ropes, before being taken to the vet where he was hydrated, his wounds cleaned and antibiotics given.

Ms Thomas said that between 2012 and 2017 the Da Gama Park troop has lost most of its coded adult or maturing male baboons, saying that out of 21 coded male baboons in the troop only four remain.

“Generally, a baboon comes under watch for behaviour such as entering the urban area and raiding or else leaving the troop including temporarily, particularly when young males are fought with by the alpha male as they begin to challenge his dominance. The baboons are coded, and may be tagged and/or collared,”she said.

She said that in August and September this year, concerns were raised about Surprise leaving the troop and taking females with him, splitting manpower and potentially forming a splinter troop.

The management of baboon troops on the Cape Peninsula is undertaken jointly by the City of Cape Town, CapeNature, South African Navy and Table Mountain National Park (SANParks) who are known collectively as the Baboon Technical Team (BTT).

The Baboon Liaison Group, which is made up of residents’ associations, meets regularly with the BTT to discuss a range of issues related to protecting baboons
from retribution by residents, which includes injuries from pellet guns, poisons, dogs and car injuries.

The aim of both organisations is to maintain a sustainable baboon population that lives in the natural areas. The City is also mandated to protect residents and visitors from raiding baboons.

Kay Montgomery, spokesperson for the BTT, said Surprise was injured in baboon-on-baboon fighting.

“His injury – a gash in the top of his left leg – was monitored by HWS and a team from the SPCA. All agreed that the injury was healing and that there would be no intervention,” she said.

Over the weekend, Surprise retreated to a tree, shivering and unwell. He was monitored by HWS managers and on Sunday October 22, was darted by veterinarian Dr Hamish Currie and lowered safely out of the tree by a team using ropes.

She said that following antibiotics on Sunday night, the animal was expected to recover.

However, by Monday October 23, Surprise was found to still be very weak. By late morning he had slipped into a coma.

“The SPCA carried out an assessment of him and a decision was made to put him to sleep, for humane reasons,” Ms Montgomery said.

An autopsy is currently being performed on the baboon. “Early findings suggest that the leg gash was clean and healing, but an X-ray revealed that the baboon had two pellets in his chest,” she said. There is no information yet about how that came to be.

She said the BTT’s thanks go to Cath Shutte, the HWS, SPCA and Dr Currie for their passionate and professional contribution.

As an aside, Ms Montgomery raised the issue of the complaint laid by Baboon Matters against the City of Cape Town veterinarian, Dr Dorothy Breed, after the Ocean View fire in January.

After the fire was extinguished, two juvenile baboons were injured by burning coals and smouldering bushes. One of the juveniles recovered, and one, Phoenix,
died.

“Supported by animal rights activists and following an inflammatory social media campaign, Baboon Matters, reported the City of Cape Town veterinarian to the South African Veterinary Council for misconduct,” Ms Montgomery said.

All processes were followed.

Ms Montgomery said the council this week dismissed the complaint.

Their findings showed there was no evidence of unprofessional conduct by Dr Breed.

The Cape Town Baboon Hotline is 071 588 6540.