Practical do’s and donts for living alongside baboons
As baboons are commonly found over most of southern Africa it is more than likely that you will encounter these opportunistic primates at some point. Regrettably, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and emotion surrounding baboons –
FEAR - yes, they do have big teeth! Some people do find them very scary.
ANGER – baboons can cause a lot of damage to property which, understandably, makes a lot of people very angry.
FRUSTRATION – the baboons adapt quickly and often outwit our well made plans. We have to keep frustration at bay and remain every bit as adaptive as the baboons are.
HATRED – I cannot quite understand this strong emotional response to baboons.
However emotive we may feel about these clever creatures, it is clear that for us to outwit them, we need to keep our wits about us, and stop making emotional decisions.
Weighing up the risk versus rewards
The most important thing to remember about baboons is their innate ability to weigh up the risk versus rewards – if the rewards are high, baboons will take well thought out, calculated risks. One of the tools that baboons will use to assess the risks is their incredible skill at analysing the entire scenario – from your body language, to the layout of the buildings and including their escape routes.
If a farmer or resident thinks that shooting baboons will chase them away, he needs to realise that the baboons will soon learn to recognise the shooter. Not only will they recognise the individual, they will also look to see if he has his gun with him. So if the rewards are very high – a lovely fruiting tree laden with fruits , for example, the baboons will first stop, look for the shooter - if he is not there they will make a quick, nervous foray for the fruits. If he is there, but does not have his gun with him, they may stay back – or may make a very quick dash for some fruit. If the shooter is present, with his gun – then they will probably stay away completely. The point is that they will not avoid the area, they will simply be careful about how they achieve their goals.
Baboons are not territorial – if food sources offer high reward and are easily available they will utilise this opportunity. Home ranges of specific troops usually denote the limit or extent to which baboons will travel in order to gain maximum food benefits to energy expended. Home ranges are not fixed and will vary change according to food availability – so fires, drought or other phenomena may cause the ranges to change if food sources dry up. On the other hand, if baboons are gaining high rewards from confined areas, their natural home ranges may shrink – so baboons will spend greater time getting easy foods from villages or farms and ignore their natural foraging options.
In weighing up the risk and reward scenario it is important to remember just how well baboons read our body language. If you are unsure or scared of the baboons – they will take advantage of your indecision (normally they will just sit and look at you) and your apparently feeble attempts to “chase them away” normally are unsuccessful. Typically in these situations people report that the baboons were “aggressive” and it is only when we unpack the facts does it come out that the baboons didn’t really do anything – but they didn’t move away either.
It is important that we do not confuse aggression with normal baboon behaviour. The fact that we may feel threatened does not always mean that the baboon has done anything aggressive.
Be assertive and sure of your intention
By remaining calm, that does not mean that you sit back and let the baboons stay in your home or car – rather, it gives you time to plan your own action. It has been proven in many experiments that animals respond well to our clear intentions – so you have to remain calm and be sure exactly what your intentions are to have the best success.
Once you have decided what you are going to do, and how you are going to do it – be assertive and very sure of yourself, remembering that the baboons are reading you like a book!
Some tactics that you can use to your advantage include:
Be sure of your plan and carry your actions out clearly and methodically – this will help you to stay calm and send a clear message that you mean business.
Try making your voice as commanding as possible – without shouting and screaming!
“Shoulders back, head high” – remember your body language is being read by very clever strategists! By making your body appear as large and dominant as possible you are already sending out a clear message that you are in control.
For more information on “Setting your intention with animals” go to www. animaltalkafrica.co.za
Overcoming your fear
Fear is a very difficult emotion to overcome, but a suggestion is to deal with the situation as factually as possible – by keeping to logic and avoiding the emotion, you will be better able to deal with the baboons.
Some facts about baboons:
Baboons are not predators – those big teeth are for protection, not hunting.
Typically, baboons will avoid a conflict; they don’t want to waste energy of a fruitless fight. Baboons will only engage in a fight if they are directly threatened, or cornered – or if the juveniles are threatened - in other words they will protect themselves and their families.
People often mistake the fear grimace for a sign of aggression. Remember baboons are often just as scared as you are – signs of their fear include:
- the fear grimace (i.e. when they pull their lips back from their teeth)
- running with their tail straight up.
- high pitched screams and frantic movements
- defecating or urinating
(Keep watching our website, as we continue improve the site, we will download video clips and information illustrating these points.)
Baboons have both the musculature and teeth to do tremendous damage – if they chose to do so. But the facts are that over the many, many years of interactions between humans and baboons, reports of actual baboon bites are extremely rare. There have been fewer recorded incidents of baboon bites than most other species. To elaborate – dogs, rats, humans, scorpions, spiders – even sharks! - all bite far more frequently than baboons. In the past twenty years, there have been situations where people have been pushed over by baboons, a few incidents where people have been scratched – and fewer than ten recorded incidents where people have actually been bitten.
The fact that baboons do not often bite people does NOT mean you should take them for granted in any way – or try to befriend them. Leave baboons alone – do not try to feed them or touch them.
Treat all animals with respect – do not go into their space and try to touch them – just as you would not appreciate a stranger coming up to you and attempting to touch you!
Never (ever, ever) feed baboons. They are not hungry and do not need your food. Remember that baboons do not share food amongst themselves – they work in a dominance related hierarchy – so if you give your food to a baboon you are showing that individual that you are subordinate.
In summary : baboons are strategic and analytical – so to outwit them it is important to stay calm!
This cannot be stressed enough; it is based on sound logic and many years of practical experience. Stay calm, assess the situation – think and then act. If you get hysterical, or angry and start yelling and screaming chances are you will give the baboons a fright, they will immediately defecate and react fearfully or protectively if their family is in close proximity. If YOU react badly, the situation quickly gets out of control and you do not solve anything.
The above is a general overview that will hopefully guide your approach to the baboons you may come across. In addition to the general approach, there are some very practical do’s and don’t that will make your life a lot easier – and help to keep the baboons away from the villages and away from easy human food.