Killing the Cape’s male baboons
Two years ago the authorities managing baboons on the Cape Peninsula had William baboon of Scarborough killed for being a repeat raider. In their defense, the BCA (as they became known) stated that they had a new protocol that had been devised speci-fically to deal with so called problematic individuals, and that hence forth the new protocol would inform such decision making.
And that was the start of the problems – problems of secrecy, lack of accountability and worst of all lack of progressive thinking, it was back to killing problem animals – actions that had taken 18 years to move away from.
It was easy to see why the grouping of City of Cape Town, Cape Nature and Table Mountain Parks (the BCA) – all benefiting from scientific input and direction provided by the Baboon Research Unit of UCT – had kept the protocol under wraps; as from the first death it is clear that the protocol could not be implemented effectively.
Despite loud objections to the very obvious flaws in the planning and execution of this protocol Sol, Fred, Jimmy, Mike, Oswald, Danny and several of the unnamed coded baboons of Tokai forest were killed – 13 male baboons in total. The next three are targeted – Merlin, Force and Peter will be killed as soon as they enter trap cages set for them.
As decisions governing baboon management appear to be shrouded in secrecy, so getting even the most basic data proves impossible. The most basic of all information - population counts and analysis - is carefully kept from public scrutiny. Population growth is spoken of in vague terms, but troop breakdown, age and sex breakdowns – all vital to informed decision making - are simply not made known to any query.
Our information is based on reports from the service provider as well as our own compilation of numbers and the information garnered indicates that the past two years have probably been the worst in recent history for our male baboons here on the Cape peninsula.
It must be stressed, that the deaths listed below are only the ones that we know of – there may well be more…
Two years ago, there were 58 listed adult male baboons – of these 23 have been killed; 13 through the implementation of the protocol, the rest through dog attacks, car accidents – and of course some shot. A couple just disappeared – given the lack of trust and lack of transparency, conservationists cannot be blamed for suspecting that they too were killed. And then we have the castrations; at least two males that we know of have been castrated in a controversial experiment, with seemingly no thorough scientific research behind it or follow-up to record the impacts of the castration on both the individual and the troop.
If Merlin, Force and Peter are killed, and the two castrated males are included in this analysis (as they are no-longer capable of procreation) the total of males eliminated comes to 28 – in other words; the adult male population will have been reduced by half.
The big question to consider is, have the problems been solved by the removal of the so-called problem animals? It is abundantly clear that they have not. When Fred baboon was taken from the Millers Point troop, we warned that other baboons would simply take his place – and sure enough old toothless Merlin stepped up as did Force – both eager to get their easy food from vehicles. Got rid of one baboon – and two filled the gap – as well as some of the higher ranking females and some juveniles.
In Scarborough, William was killed, and then Captain Corelli, Split-Lip has disappeared too, all very mysterious – but did the raiding stop; did things improve in the village of Scarborough – not at all. In fact, things got so bad that residents banded together and attempted to drive baboons from the village with paintball guns.
Recently, the battle against baboons has taken on a more sinister, “psychological warfare” feel. Baboons are increasingly labelled as aggressive, warnings repeatedly and alarmingly raised that children will be attacked, even killed. (Of note here, is the fact that over many, many years now hundreds of families raised children successfully in villages of Simonstown, Scarborough, Kommetjie etc – despite the almost daily presence of baboons. If baboons were going to attack a child, they have had well over 50 years of recent history to do so and despite many instances of bullying baboons from various children there have been no recorded premeditated attacks on children)
As part of the warfare, new techniques to “deal with baboons” are advocated – “tools” such as paintball guns, explosive bear bangers and whips are promoted – giving residents reason to think that the only way of dealing with these frustrating creatures is through aggression – after all the “experts” tell us that “baboons have lost all fear of humans”.
So it is up to the emotive, baboon hugging conservationists to make the call for calm, to argue for clear logical thinking – and to present solutions that do not rely on aggressive attack as the only form of defense.
In the past 350 years the irrational idea that killing problem animals solves the problems has been the guiding rule in wildlife management – and after 350 years we still have the same problems, surely this tells us that the killing tactics are not working?
It is time to look for new strategies, and rather than reinventing the wheel, it is time to go right back to basics. We need to be focusing our efforts on managing humans – there is no way you can manage baboons, but through effective education, law enforcement and strategy we can manage people.
The Millers Point troop illustrates perfectly just how shooting baboons with paintball guns does not work in the long run, how bear bangers (explosive bangs) don’t work in the long run. The troop shows us clearly that the easy rewards of food from fishermen and dustbins, food given from vehicles, food from the caravan park – these easy food sources attract them to the same short stretch of road daily, and the on-going use of bear bangers and paintball guns has not altered this behaviour – and neither did the removal of Fred – and nor will the removal of Merlin and Force. What will change baboon behaviour is preventing them gaining access to food.
There are a couple of simple solutions for this particular scenic area – one being to keep the vehicles moving if the baboons are on the road. The other is to actively enforce the law –and there is a law that says it is illegal to feed baboons, and it is well signposted in baboon areas - although no-one has ever actually been fined.
To the authorities, it seems that conservationists find it easy to list critical comment, and to overlook what has been accomplished; so credit where credit due - strides have been made in waste management, and in education – but (by their own admission) things are a long way from perfect.
It would be wonderful to be more praising of the BCA, but it is difficult to overlook how many males have been killed with no tangible improvement in the various problem areas.
It seems as if the Baboon Conservation Authorities ( a quietly ironic acronym) have become a law unto themselves; the protocol which was widely touted as being there to protect the baboons has become the guise under which killing of baboons is given a semblance of legality. In most instances the protocol is not followed at all – one wonders how the decisions to kill baboons are actually made, as it is clear to all that – under the protocol - Merlin, Force and Peter should not be killed.
The bulk of this overview has been based on objective facts and figures, but it is simply not acceptable to overlook the ethics of these killings. Removing adult males causes huge disruption within the troop structure. Juveniles loose father figures and older role models who dispense discipline, protect and care for their young – and baboons display such an obvious range of emotions, that we have to accept that they mourn too. Without doubt there should be ethical and emotional consideration given to prevent the on-going killing of male baboons.
For hundreds of years baboons and humans have interacted here on the Cape peninsula. Photographs from the 1950s show smiling folk with baboons sitting on their vehicles, and letters describe picnics at the point – with baboon rascals stealing the sandwiches. What has changed from those scenarios? – only our attitudes it seems. Now we live in fear of law suits, fear of safety and security – and we forget that aggression creates aggression, we forget that our attitude is the most important influence we can bring to bear. Those who treat the baboons with respect and understanding, taking all necessary precautions to minimise interactions, seem to have few problems – but those who rage and shoot – well they don’t really achieve too much at all, and certainly don’t resolve any problems.
One noted researcher has commented that it is impossible to manage humans, although (personally) I find that attitude defeatist and in effect condones killing animals to resolve problems. There are plenty of examples where people have been managed very effectively; in USA the authorities have instituted incredibly strict rules governing human behaviour in national parks – so as not to attract bears. In various states and counties (again in USA) residents are well informed if they choose to live in bear counties – and heavily fined if they attract bears into villages.
The City of Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park enjoy huge financial rewards from tourism, yet are taking little precautionary measures to make sure that, when it comes to baboons, tourists are not impacting negatively on our wildlife. More – much more – needs to be done by both mentioned authorities to provide safe areas for picnicking, and strict rules enforced when coming into contact with the baboons.
It simply is not good enough for authorities to say, in essence, that we will have to keep killing individual animals while we strive for a better human management. Killing animals does not solve management problems – management solves management problems. Come on BCA – we demand more of you.