“Bullet-ridden baboon’s terror rule ….”

Fred with juveniles ( 14 March 2009).

” Dramatic colour” is I believe, the term used when the popular press ramp up a story.  If you google the reports on the recent documentary aired on Channel Four – “Inside Nature’s Giants” on ” The Rogue Baboon”  (10-01-2012) you’ll be amazed at the coverage.  From Belfast to Mumbai, the press has run the the story, The Daily Mail, The Huffington Post, Ghana Nation, The Express, etc etc…  The headlines read:  “Rogue bullet-ridden baboon terrorised town after being shot 50 times.”  He’s described as a despotic emperor, acting like a thug and a notorious gangster, a mobster,  carrying out a reign of terror “casting a shadow of fear, and (in the context of scientific investigation) he could bite like a lion and run like a cheetah.”

“400 baboons roam the area and in particular can be found on the scenic route to Cape Point …”

This is very misleading!

The imagery of this anthropomorphism conveys little respect for the tragic circumstances leading to the euthenasia of this animal.    The results of the autopsy were announced last year, and we learned from the x-rays that Fred’s body was riddled with lead: fourteen airgun pellets and seventy pieces of birdshot.   What also came to light was that the wounds had healed over and pinpointed back to an earlier time.   The community of Simon’s Town had alerted the authorites over the course of several years, that they needed assistance.   Yet the authority mandated in managing ‘damage-causing’ animals, ignored the calls, and the situation escalated out of control.

Much has changed since then and I can write with some experience as for a period of two and  half years I was closely involved with our civic association in finding solutions.  All the Peninsula’s ‘free-ranging’ troops (bar one) are included in the City’s Baboon management strategy and the contractor, NCC have assigned monitors to keep the baboons away from the residential areas.   The formation of an association representing the civic bodies, The Baboon Liason Group (BLG)  now takes on the responsibility of a liasing body and link between communities and the authorities to ensure the humane and effective management of the Peninsula baboons.   Changing people’s perceptions and promoting responsible behaviour – getting the ‘buy-in’ from the community and working with the authorities are the BLG’s top priorities.    The long term vision of the BLG is that the baboons spend all their time in a natural habitat, staying entirely out of residential areas.   But the ‘wheels of authority turn slowly’ and at a pace that brings very real concern (my personal belief) that it continues to be too little too late.

Fred’s x-ray results brought a foreboding sense of despondency: the act of horrendous cruelty. We continue to have unrealistic expectations that baboon raiding patterns can be curbed when we offer rich pickings of unsecured food.   Open recreational areas, such as picnic and camping facilities are recipes for disaster.   As I see it, while there is a continued overlap of territory there will be ongoing conflict.  Baboons will continue to adapt to exploiting opportunity for maximum return of food and people will assert the right to defend their homes and families.

The motorists and visitors who fed Fred and the Smitswinkel troop are just as guilty at infringing the law.  In Fred’s case, it reinforced a pattern of behaviour which escalated into aggression, and triggered dangerous dominance assertion.   It didn’t happen overnight either, it was a pattern which developed over several years.   Again the authority mandated to implement conservation controls, failed.    In 2000, residents of the Miller’s Point caravan park were drawing attention to aggressive raiding patterns of the male baboons.

Last year for a three month period,  the Baboon Protector project was launched through a BLG initiative (by way of a generous private donation) and from the start of this year, will continue for another three.   The ‘men-in red-vests’ follow the troop as it moves along the scenic route, between Millers Point and and Smitswinkel Bay informing the public and motorists in the hotspot areas, in an attempt to mitigate the number of car raids and incidence of illegal feeding.   Since Fred’s death there has been an improvement with fewer car raids, but the message needs to be reinforced each and every single day, on an ongoing basis.

Baboon numbers, which have steadily increased over the last decade, stand at around 475.   The 17 troops are restricted to pockets of land between the south-western suburbs.  Troops can be encountered on the southern Peninsula’s scenic route between Miller’s Point and Kommetjie, but the impression that 400 free roaming baboons may be encountered is not correct.

TV documentaries reach mass audiences,  I just hope it’s the right message which is getting through.

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