LETTER SENT TO THE BABOON DAMAGE WORKING GROUP on 14 March 2011
To All Members of the Baboon Damage Working Group
Further to my recent resignation and the subsequent letter from Dave Malloch-Brown in his capacity as chairman of the working group; I felt it necessary to place on record the actual reasons for my resignation.
Baboon Matters joined the BDWG after the stakeholders meeting of August 2008. By participating on this working group I had hoped to be able to influence change and move towards the goal of sustainable, long term and non-lethal solutions for baboon management within the plantations.
By August 2009, I was seriously concerned about a number of issues and so wrote a letter to the chairman of the BDWG on 01.09.09 detailing concerns relating to:
The lack of any definable progress – specific to the delays in appointing the much hoped for research co-ordinator as well as the lack of information being relayed to the stakeholders (through the website)
High numbers of baboons killed - based on the limited knowledge I had garnered from meetings.
Methodology of the killings
I suggested – again – a site visit with experts in their field.
2010 was marked by further delays as described above, on going killing of baboons (the full extent of which was unclear) and culminating in a poorly attended stakeholders meeting.
On 1 December 2010, I reminded the BDWG of promises made at the 2010 stakeholders meeting whereby actual numbers of baboons killed should be made available in the interests of a clear and transparent process.
It took until the 6 January 2011 to receive the information, and given the high numbers of baboons killed and the obvious reluctance to reveal the figures; the NGO’s represented on the BDWG (being Endangered Wildlife Trust, Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and Baboon Matters) all raised our concerns in a letter directed to the heads of the various forestry companies.
In light of the extreme frustration and anger expressed by all parties, an emergency meeting was called on 25.01.11.
BDWG Meeting 25.01.11
At this meeting several key decisions were made, some of which are (from the minutes, and in no particular order):
1) Forestry companies requested to submit culling plans for next 6 months
Duncan Ballantyne, Dave Malloch-Brown, Willem Hollenstein.
2) Forward request for immediate moratorium to forestry CEO’s for consideration.
Duncan Ballantyne, Dave Malloch-Brown, Willem Hollenstein.
3) Permit application screening checklist and permitting process – present draft
4) Total population of baboons
…it was conceded that more scientific methods had to be used to give an accurate and precise number. Resolved
5) Ethical evaluation prior to culling
A discussion followed on what ethical considerations were followed. The point was made that culling was only applied in areas where severe damage occurred. The management protocol also gave guidelines and ethical considerations. The suggestion was made for a support or screening process – this should be encompassed in the next revision of the protocol. See also 3(i) below.
BDWG Meeting 7 March 2011
NGO requests for a moratorium on killing of baboons were not only declined, but worse is the fact that 295 baboons were killed in the 5 week period since the previous meeting.
Despite the agreement that culling plans be put in place, we were not informed of the imminent deaths of 295 baboons on 25.01.11 – this underlines a complete lack of transparency and therefore trust. If we sit at the table and make decisions in good faith, only to discover at the very next meeting that plans had already been in place to kill a further 295 baboons, how can we take any decision made seriously?
It should be noted that no-where in the minutes of the meeting on 25.01.11 does it state that operations already in process would continue with the trapping and killing of baboons. It was, therefore, erroneous to say that the NGO’s had accepted or agreed to the further killing of baboons – this is at complete odds to our demands for an immediate moratorium on all killing of baboons.
When Tim Snow of EWT queried the exponential increase of baboons killed and asked for future plans for the remainder of the year – as was agreed in the previous meeting - he was side-lined and it was stated that there were no clear plans for future killings.
It took repeated requests to have future permit applications revealed; understandable since permits for the astonishing number of 1000 baboons to be killed had been submitted.
The agreements for screening process, scientific evaluation of numbers, ethical considerations and permits to be agreed at BDWG meetings apparently fell by the wayside in the space of only 5 weeks.
The FSA approval of a co-ordinator remains unresolved and at this rate it is unlikely that anyone will be appointed much before June 2011 at very best (if at all). From having agreed to a co-ordinator in 2008, it will have taken almost three years to fulfil this essential – yet relatively simple - task.
The forestry companies (in their press statement of January 2011) reveal that R5.6 million was spent on managing the baboon damage. Email requests for a breakdown on how this money was allocated were ignored and when the issue was raised at the meeting it was stated that the majority of the money was spent “assessing the baboon damage”. It would appear that the only funds allocated to “managing” the damage was allocated to establishing where the baboons were (through use of radio collars) and then trapping and killing the troops found in areas of the worst damage.
Of note is that none of the R5.6 million was allocated to research towards finding none lethal solutions, and none of the money was allocated towards a co-ordinator – despite the very obvious fact that at every stakeholder meeting, and indeed, every BDWG meeting the co-ordinator position was deemed to be essential to the on-going work of the group.
From a research perspective, it was unacceptable to see researchers work and suggestions specific to other areas being taken out of context to justify decisions made by forestry companies. I refer to the presentation made by Thys de Wet in which he made specific reference to work undertaken by the Baboon Research Unit of UCT and in particular to Prof. J O’Riain. It was detailed that Prof. J. O’Riain advocates getting baboon populations down to “manageable numbers as is being undertaken on the Cape peninsula”.
It must be noted that if indeed this was said by Prof. O’Riain; it has not been accepted as a current management strategy and not implemented, as was suggested.
It is not possible to compare the specific conditions of the Cape peninsula to those of the plantations.
As mentioned in the meeting of 25.01.11, specific scientific work needs to be done to determine the carrying capacity of baboons in the plantations – comparisons to Blyde River and Kruger are not accurate, nor acceptable.
Aggressive accusations that the conservation bodies had made no constructive suggestions for non-lethal methods for baboon damage are erroneous and misleading in the extreme. Personally, I have suggested:
Coming to the plantations with experts in their field to assess the efficacy and validity of monitors. This suggestion has been on the table since 2008.
I have suggested sending the bark samples to Dr. Paula Pebsworth for analysis. This is relevant as Dr. Pebsworth is currently doing analytical work on the self-medicating habits of baboons and has access to state of the art laboratories.
I have suggested leaving severely damaged compartments near to specific sleep-site areas for on-going use by baboons, on the basis that if the pine trees are already damaged let the baboons continue to utilise those damaged trees – perhaps it would prevent damage elsewhere – as yet the theory is untested.
I have suggested mineral “licks” to compensate for possible minerals found in the cambium.
Above all, I have stressed the fact that until we know why the baboons are stripping the bark it will be almost impossible to find or suggest solutions – we have all agreed on this point repeatedly, so the accusation that we are not suggesting alternatives is a moot one – how can we suggest anything further until we have relevant information?
Resignation from the BDWG
I have been reluctant to resign from the BDWG as I felt that in doing so I follow a long line of conservationists who have participated and then given up as the apparent lack of any real commitment to significant change from the forestry companies inevitably leads to disillusionment in this process. However, it is clear from the course of events over the past three years that forestry companies are not committed to finding real solutions to the problem and that the killing of baboons will undoubtedly remain the chosen course of action for considerable time to come.
We are all aware of economic pressures, job losses and the complexities the forestry companies face. In the face of this economic pressure, it is all the more inexcusable that R5.6million is allocated and (without input or suggestion from BDWG) that none of that money is spent of finding solutions. To have sat on a committee for three years, dealing with obfuscation and delays when clearly large sums of money were available is beyond belief and beyond anything that I, personally, can accept.
I am pragmatic enough to understand that there are sometimes regrettable instances whereby animals do have to be killed. Before we resort to such killings however, it will always be absolutely imperative that all other options have been fully explored and all research completed before such steps are taken. Within the BDWG clearly this has not happened. In my opinion, the fact that R5.6 million was clearly available and yet the co-ordinator post was not filled and no current research undertaken is inexcusable. The deaths of almost a thousand baboons to date, and the planned deaths of another thousand is a deeply disturbing reflection on the ethics and lack of commitment of this working group and cannot be explained away or deferred to economic responsibilities.
It is my belief that the real intention of the forestry companies is to reduce the numbers of baboons to a level that they deem to be functional to the specific needs of the plantations. This is unacceptable on many levels and together with, what I believe to be, the misuse of R5.6 million rand is the reason that I chose to step away from what I believe to be a fundamentally flawed process.
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