The Smitswinkel Troop Comes Visiting

On a wet, wintery Sunday morning last month we were roused by our neighbour’s loud shouts and to the call of baboons on the roof.  It’s been a while, five years in fact since the Smitswinkel troop last came into the suburb on a raiding incursion.  That’s quite a record.  It was June 2009 when a group of concerned residents with the aid of the civic association set forth to find solutions in reducing the human/baboon conflict impacting Simon’s Town.    I knew little about baboon behaviour then, but through observation and being involved in both sides of the story, I’ve learned that the complexities of the issues will always be fraught with controversy.  It’s interesting to note that the baboons are given protected status on the Peninsula, yet there are no enforced restrictions or bye-laws against irresponsible waste management, nor management of food in recreational areas which inherently attract baboons.


6 thoughts on “The Smitswinkel Troop Comes Visiting

  1. This is a fascinating story Liz,, one that leaves me with lots of questions about the baboon management plan, mortality factors, risks associated with human contact, etc. For example, how are surplus animals dealt with – harvest? trap and transfer? sterilization via food supplements? I also like the foraging scenes and wonder what they’re consuming, in addition to muscles. Great post.

    1. Yes, it’s a fascinating subject. 10 out of the 16 troops ( +/- 500 animals) are “managed” by a wildlife specialist contractor appointed by the City of Cape Town. The scientists at BRU (Baboon Research Unit) have had the Peninsula baboons under scrutiny and all manner of research – various aspects – ecology, behaviour, genetics, evolution. The management strategy has evolved from passive monitoring, to the use of technology (using GPS tracking collars) and a range of deterrents from noise aversion to pain (paintball guns). Their biggest threat comes from humans – injury either through illicit use of pellet guns, or out right culling. Their numbers have steadily increased over the last few years, but the dispersing males present a “management” problem, as their nature to roam freely leads to raiding. Sadly there is a strict policy not to move the excess population off the Peninsula due to disease which could infect the wild population. The studies reveal that they carry a range of gastrointestinal parasites, and i believe at one point there was concern over TB. The members of the 11 troops outside the reserve are trapped in pockets of remaining natural vegetation, and interestingly the majority are in Constantia Valley which is an upmarket suburb and vineyard growing area – their diet is supplemented by raiding the vines, millet and pine-nuts from the pine plantations. The southern troops forage on natural “fynbos” vegetation and some on the shoreline and rock pools. The troop which really hit the jackpot at one point used to raid the ostrich farm and scored a diet supplemented by nutritious ostrich eggs! Recent studies have been conducted on marine pool foraging – mussels, limpets, shark-purse, but i’m not sure whether the results have been published yet. Prior to 2010 the raiding patterns and incursion into the urban area had escalated to such an extent that residents were desperate. City had to step in to fulfill “Health and Safety” requirements. It’s not ideal, as the authorities tasked to provide for the animals in terms of protection turn a blind eye when it comes to implementing fines or controlling the human element of conservation infringement.

    1. Yes, handsome’s a good description 🙂 Tricky and loaded with policy politics. They’re in a precarious position. Urban sprawl has them trapped in small pockets of remaining vegetation. The odd dispersing male makes it through to a new troop and sometimes they are assisted (trapped and released in the vicinity of a new troop), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be accepted.

  2. When we visited South Africa a troop of baboons had take up residence at the national park at the Cape of Good Hope and were VERY aggressive with the tourists. Funny and cute at first, we soon realized they were nothing to be fooled with and we took to photographing them with long zoom lenses 🙂 Your photos are terrific although I wouldn’t want them in the neighborhood for sure! Interesting back story Liz, thanks!

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