Baboons play an integral role in the ecology of Fynbos vegetation and their diet is so varied within this plant system that it may be easier to note what they don’t eat rather than the extensive list of what they do! I’ve been fortunate to sight a couple of the troops recently in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve while out cycling and have been able to observe their foraging. After good rainfall this winter the vegetation is green and succulent and the animals are in good condition. The temperature has also been colder than usual so it’s interesting to note their thick ‘winter coats’.
The Atlantic Sea is rough and powerful on the western side of the Cape Peninsula coastline and it speaks of failed and doomed fishing exploitation. Evidence of discarded fishing gear is everywhere, fishing nets, bundles of rope, plastic, gut lines, anchor weights, lobster traps. Plastic detritus is in fabric of the sand, in the dried kelp line, between the rocks. How did we get to this tipping point, how can we ever reverse the damage? The despondency of it all is so overwhelming that it makes me want to curl up and weep.
In the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve there is a coastal path along the western side of Cape Point to Olifantsbos. It is the wild side, a place of sea birds, baboons, seals. There is no way to get close to this wild Cape fur seal and free it of from that line of rope so deeply embedded into its neck.
Some visual images pack a visceral punch. In June over a period of just one fortnight, three whale entanglements in octopus trap lines occurred here in False Bay. Two Bryde whales died; a third, a juvenile humpback survived after being cut free. Photographs showed horrific injuries where ropes cut deeply into flesh and death by drowning, caused bloating. That’s not the worst of it, other whales prior to this had also died through entanglement. A tally of 8 apparently in recent years, but no one knows for sure. Activists sparked outrage over social media and Allison Thomson organised a petition addressed to our Minister of Environmental Affairs, Fisheries and Forestry to stop the octopus fishing. A temporary suspension was called while further assessment could be undertaken in this an “experimental” fishery. Without any scientific data to back up the sustainable viability of the octopus population an “exploratory” license was initially issued for a five year period for a catch of up to 50 tonnes per year. The experiment was to have been monitored by the Department, but apparently has now been running for seventeen years without any scientific oversight. How can the trophic impact to the food web be accurately assessed when one specie is targeted? Do the predators which hunt octopus – eg. seals, or otters or sharks prey instead on penguins? Have the shark species move off somewhere else? No one knows for sure what the knock on effect is on other marine species.
Through the years we have observed the octopus fishing boats laying out the gear – multiple traps fixed over long lines set with bouys and anchors. There are at least twenty-two traps over a kilometer of line attached each end to a bouy. The traps lie on the ocean bed and the submerged lines are supposed to be heavy enough to sink except for section up to the bouys. When the catch is retrieved all the traps need to be pulled up on deck to be emptied and then returned to the water and the gear reset along the edge of the kelp forests, and in some areas quite close to marine reserves.
Meanwhile apparently all the gear has been removed after the license was suspended and the officials debate the ethics of killing whale species over the economic validity of the industry.
Winter at the Cape Peninsula can be petulant: wild and stormy with the Atlantic sea crashing in with dramatic drift and flow contrasted with the calmest sheerest-whisper-of-wind days. Returning after months away traveling to tropical countries, this for me is the best time of year to be in Cape Town. Though home is in the southern peninsula – away from the city lights where nature shows her untrammeled face. I have written quite a few posts on Olifantsbos Beach, here , here and here. This working beach with it’s natural processes attracts diners to a veritable feast. Seabirds flock here and recently i visited hoping to photograph the African Black Oystercatchers but instead got totally distracted by a gaggle of Egyptian geese in mating mode. Their strut and ‘necking’ stole the show. Then the ostriches showed up, the buck and the baboons …..
A wobble of ostrich.
This Chacma baboon troop is one of the wild troops living within the park. There are only two troops which aren’t habituated to raiding anthropogenic food sources and forage only in natural fynbos and the rock pools for shellfish. The rest of the troops are under threat one way or another, either through being attracted into residential areas or through poor conservation practice. Generally there is an overlap into their home range where human recreational facilities feature vineyards, restaurants, picnic and campsites. If baboons know they are going to get easy rewards and when residents and property owners do not secure garbage bins or adequately baboon-proof their properties / homes, baboon raiding patterns become entrenched as they will return over and over. If they learn to rely on human food it voids their inherent role in the ecosystem and disrupts their social relationships. They can become aggressive and when they have to be euthanised there is much outrage often from the humans who are the cause of the entrenched raiding patterns in the first place. While SANParks recognise the ‘res nullius’ free roaming status of baboons, there is a lack of law enforcement for fining people who feed the animals nor are there enforceable by-laws for securing garbage so ultimately it’s the baboons which suffer the consequences.
Pitted against the predatory intentions of a spotted hyena clan, the day to day existence of the Namibs is perilous. The situation has been hotly contested polarising the conservation community – there are those who are for the hyenas and support a policy of non-interference and those who strongly feel obligated towards relocating the horses to a place of safety, or moving the hyena. The debate has been going on for years without much action from the conservation authorities until recently when the plight of the horses became critical. Meetings were held between Minister Shifeta from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Wild Horses Foundation last month with the MET concluding they would draw up a draft management plan, with further consultation “BY THE END OF MAY.”
Meanwhile as the weeks pass there is collective anxiety over the welfare of the remaining foal. Checking the latest Namibia Wild Horses Facebook post she is still alive and doing well. Named Zohra, – in Persian translates as “flower blossom” or in Arabic “Venus, jewel of the sky” which is so aptly descriptive of the white flash on her forehead.
Returning some months to the scenes on 22 February we watched, poised at the viewing site above the waterhole as pairs of horses came into view. The first little foal looked very vulnerable, staying close to mother’s side –
We learned that it had been attacked by spotted hyenas (an injury which looked to be healing, was visible just above the belly on the left side), though it appeared to be coping.
As they moved off after drinking at the waterhole, the little one fell behind, lagging some distance. Concern for it’s well being was justified as shortly afterwards this precious creature did not survive.
The second foal was smaller than the first, coming in on ungainly legs. There she was – little Zohra with her mother Zen.
Into the waterhole she trotted, getting under underfoot and not quite too sure where she should stand.