Sometimes an image can be open to interpretation. Take this photo for example, a picture of Fred the baboon, with two juveniles sitting happily in a car. A car raid for sure, but was it the fault of carelessness on the motorist’s behalf? What had happened that the baboons had taken control? I took this photograph in May 2009, and to me it is as relevant today in summing up the ongoing symptomatic issues of a failed conservation policy. Baboons learn to associate people and cars with food, and therein lies the problem. Back in 2009 the Smitswinkel troop’s car raiding behaviour had already escalated and many motorists, particularly tourists were being caught out, unaware that baboons could open car doors. In this incident a young couple had pulled over into one of the scenic lay-byes on the outskirts of Murdock Valley, where the troop were chilling some distance away. Fred casually walked over and opened the rear passenger door. It’s not what most people would expect, however they stayed calm and got out of the car. It transpired that the woman had worked at a primate sanctuary and was familiar with the ways of monkeys. She was aware that it was best not to challenge an alpha male and they quietly waited until eventually he and the juveniles left. Then there were no warning signs conveying precautions to keep car doors locked and windows closed and one can sympathize that they were taken so completely off guard.
Since then signage has been erected along the scenic drive and there are fewer opportunities for car raids if people are sensible and heed the instructions. Sadly it was too late for Fred as his actions became ever more aggressive and the authorities were forced to put him down. This particular photograph was the start of a collection which culminated in an exhibition at the Casa Labia in 2011. It was a campaign to highlight the issues and draw attention to the plight of the Smitwinkel baboons, as well as the impact of our harmful human environment.