'Spoilers' target baboons

Residents in Nature’s Valley, a popular holiday village on the Western Cape’s Garden Route, are at each others throats about troops of baboons that raid homes in search of festive leftovers.

Like the “dethroned white males” who have become “alienated, depressed spoilers” in the debate sparked by Malegapuru Makgoba in last week’s Mail & Guardian, some residents want to take out their wrath on the primates by shooting them.

At a public meeting convened earlier this month, a number of residents were baying for the baboons’ blood. A petition is apparently being circulated calling on the Bitou municipality in neighbouring Plettenberg Bay to give permission to the police to shoot some of the marauding primates.

But not all residents agree that dethroning the offenders will solve the problem. Bitter e-mails are being exchanged and a second petition opposing the shooting of baboons has been signed by hundreds of people, including groups in Tanzania, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.

The one thing the two factions agree on is that absentee landowners and holidaymakers are the main cause of the baboon problem.

Out of season, there are at most 100 residents in Nature’s Valley, which is surrounded by the Tsitsikamma National Park. In season there is an influx of about 2 000 visitors, who leave behind them a trail of waste and tempting leftovers.

The residents, many of them elderly, are often terrified by the primates who descend on the village to scavenge.

“The situation is way out of control,” said Bool Smuts, a landowner. “Baboons have raided my house on three occasions in the last month, with one incident involving more than 10 juveniles ransacking my house — despite all doors being closed and every window having burglar bars — destroying my property and defecating and urinating on beds, the kitchen and anything in sight. They also destroyed anything edible in the house.”

Bool believes shooting “one, or a few of the problematic baboons is definitely a management tool that must be considered, in conjunction with other measures”.

Karin Saks, a primate researcher who has been studying baboon troops in the area for the past three years, countered that “shooting baboons to eliminate the problem is a pointless exercise”.

She said the alpha males have first option of favourite foods, so these individuals were likely to raid houses. This gave the false impression that there are a few troublemakers, while the rest were behaving themselves.

“If the few raiding individuals get shot, it creates a vacuum for other raiding baboons to take their place. If a whole troop gets shot, then a new troop will eventually replace them. As raiding is a natural pursuit of the opportunistic chacma baboon, the problem remains unresolved,” Saks said.

She proposed a baboon-management programme similar to one that has been used in the Cape Peninsula, where there has been a significant decrease in raids. Monitors are employed to keep ba-boons away from residences, inspect waste sources and act as guides for tourists who want to see baboon troops.

Conservationists are concerned that years of conflict between humans and baboons have drastically reduced the number of the animals along the Garden Route and that the male-female ratio has been irreparably skewed.

Though chacma baboons are internationally recognised as endangered under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, they have been treated as “problem animals” in South Africa — meaning they can be shot, poisoned and captured with impunity.

But this may change in terms of the new National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act. Public comment on the new legislation and the list of species it recommends for protection closed last week.

Though South Africa’s baboons are not specifically listed for protection, they are placed on a general schedule for protected species. Several submissions call on the government to revise the schedules so that baboons and the country’s other primates are listed for protection.

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements. She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga. An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation. She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive. She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice. Read more from Fiona Macleod

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