Baboons, Humans and Households

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

The complex matter of baboons occupying mountain areas close to nature reserves, a natural habitat for quality foraging within the Cape Floral Kingdom, yet within close proximity of lower lying suburban developments, has necessitated a number of lifestyle changes for residents.

In some areas, occupants of houses, domestic employees and passersby are put to the test of interfacing with these intelligent mammals followed by dedicated Cape Nature baboon monitors, almost on a daily basis. Without the aid of professional scientific training to minimize human-baboon interaction in urban areas, property owners have benefited from a proactive approach to the challenge at hand. By making the necessary adjustments to old ingrained household habits, most interactions with baboons whose main priority is finding food, be it inside a kitchen or an unlocked, or non-baboon proof garbage bin, remain non-confrontational. And such interaction does not only apply to those who carefully selected a tranquil mountainous lifestyle with breathtaking ocean views. Residents in lower lying suburbs closer to busy traffic and commercial development have more recently discovered the wisdom behind baboon proof matters, since easy access encourages repetitive behaviour.

Not the worst life...

Suburban areas along the False Bay coastline where baboon troops move through regularly include Fish Hoek, Sunny Cove, Glencairn, Glen Marine, Welcome Glen and Simonstown, through to Cape Point. Further along from Cape Point Nature reserve and home ground to several baboon troops, are the Atlantic coastline suburbs of Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, against the slopes of the Red Hill Mountain also backing onto Simonstown. Cases where baboon troops split from each other as a result of dominant males, have lead to some mountainside residents, such in Glencairn Heights and Fish Hoek, now sharing Elsies Peak as common ground between them and a new troop.

Manageable pre-cautionary measures taken by locals include keeping all windows and doors locked with animals inside during the day, and padlocking rubbish bins cleared by municipal trucks fitted to unhinge locked bins. In addition to experiencing high noise levels resulting from neighbourhood dogs constantly barking while baboons cross over roofs, gutters and swimming pools, most property owners endeavour to educate young children, domestic workers and gardeners to minimise human interaction.

The complexities of human interface with baboons, was recently explained by Cape Town’s City’s Veterinary Scientist, Dr Elzette Jordan who said: “The effective management of large wild mammals such as baboons in an urban context requires a complex intervention, and caring deeply is not enough when such an intervention is required. Effective baboon management requires scientific expertise, research and review. The management of animals in a limited area entirely surrounded by urban development is extremely challenging and we are fortunate in Cape Town to have access to expertise on baboons from a number of sources.”

A large collective of willing organisations and private individuals in the City continue to make every effort to ease what can be challenging circumstances for home owners and residents. Working in close co-operation with the Baboon Research Unit of University of Cape Town, is Baboon Conservation Authorities, comprising the City of Cape Town, SAN Parks and Cape Nature, who with residents and both private and state landowners are responsible for managing baboons on the Cape Peninsula.

Of the complexity around not simply removing baboons from their natural habitat that may result in social problems within troops, Dr Jordan says: ”This means that our actions must not be based on emotion, untested assumptions, or guess-work, but on the best research that is available from both local and international sources,” said Dr Jordan.

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