The cost of fire on baboon troops

The fires in Da Gama Park forced the baboon troops to move to safety.

Three of the 11 “managed baboon troops” on the south peninsula were in the vicinity of the Ocean View and Simon’s Town fires last week.

It’s estimated the Ocean View fires of Wednesday January 11 and Thursday January 12 burnt 80 percent of the vegetation in the 55-strong Da Gama baboon troop’s range.

Kay Montgomery, of the Baboon Technical Team, said the fire that had started on the cliffs south east of Ocean View on the Wednesday was powered by strong north-westerly winds and at first moved in an easterly direction as fire crews moved in to fight it.

After the fire on Friday, January 13, the Da Gama troop had moved across the burnt zone to the south of Kleinplaas Dam, where vegetation was unaffected by the fire.

“In this area, the troop has access to plenty of food and water,” Ms Montgomery said.

After the fire, baboon rangers had spotted two juvenile baboons in the Da Gama troop with burn wounds.

“One has a slight limp, while the other has burnt patches on his coat. Both are regarded as relatively minor injuries and a veterinarian is monitoring the situation closely,” Ms Montgomery said.

During the Simon’s Town fire, the Waterfall troop had been moved to an unburnt zone between Waterfall Barracks and the Admiral’s Waterfall.

It was estimated that 30 percent of the vegetation in the troop’s home range had been burnt, but no injuries had been reported and the troop now had good access to food and water.

The Ocean View fire had started in the home range of the 39-strong Slangkop troop and burnt about 40 percent of the vegetation in their range.

Ms Montgomery said the prevailing north-westerly winds on the day of the fire had blown the flames away from the troop.

Baboon rangers had moved the troop northwards into the valley above the Kompaniestuin Estate on Kommetjie Road where they remained safe during the fire.

No injuries were recorded in the Slangkop troop, and Ms Montgomery said they had good access to food and water.

“The outpouring of empathy and concern by baboon lovers is appreciated. However, baboon rangers, conservation authorities, veterinarians and animal welfare experts have evaluated the situation,” she said, noting that all the baboon troops around the city had plenty of food and water at this time.

She appealed to residents not to feed baboons. Feeding baboons was not only illegal but would encourage them to raid homes.

“It is vitally important to encourage baboon troops to continue foraging out of town, in the unburnt zones. We need to keep our baboon troops wild and safe,” she said.

Ms Montgomery said baboons found it much easier to detect bulbs in the fynbos after a fire.

“This was demonstrated by the Tokai troop following the March 2015 fires, which burnt much of the Tokai plantation.”

A young adult male baboon (DG17), from the Da Gama troop, was captured in Welcome Glen on Tuesday afternoon, January 10 after complaints from residents. Ms Montgomery said a veterinarian had fitted him with a collar on the day of his capture and he had been due for release into the Da Gama troop the next morning, but the fires had delayed that. Ms Montgomery said the baboon remained “safe and comfortable” in a holding cage.

Baboon-related incidents can be reported to the Baboon Helpline at 071 588 6540.