Too close!


It’s the start of summer holidays and the  “silly season”  in Cape Town.  Visitor numbers swell,  the traffic becomes horribly congested and we see scenes like this where people take chances and get up close to take photographs of the wild baboons.


We can unwittingly put wild animals at risk with our notions that they are “tame”.  This baboon was uncomfortable being photographed at such close proximity and moved away, but what if she had reacted defensively?

19 thoughts on “Too close!

  1. Important observation Liz! Many tourists each year loose their lives because of their unwitting stupidity engaging wild animals. Also many birds and animals vacate their nests and young because they have been disturbed or threatened by human presence. We nearly always every year have a tourist here in Australia taken by a salt water Crocodile because they did not obey the signs and warnings.

  2. Stupidity, yes. But here too there is a lesson to be learned. The first photo shows complete ignorance. If you ever want to (for any reason) talk to animals, never lean over them, never tower over them, and try not to appear a giant to them. Staring into their eyes for too long, for example, is a “challenge” to the animals. Showing big eyes, unblinking is a challenge. No sudden movements, no loud noises or chatter. Never ever bend over them, arching your back forward – it almost always comes off as a show of dominance or that you are trying to make them submissive. After all that trouble you still want to talk to them, then the second photo is a little better. Leaves you unprotected if they decide to attack, but there is no direct provocation there. Squatting down makes you a less threatening figure. Avoiding staring into their eyes prevents the animals from thinking of it as a challenge or defiance. (Furtive glances are actually worse. Safer to pretend that you are actually ignoring them until they deign to notice you or take any interest in you). Big eyes are almost always a sign of threat, danger, challenge or fear in the wild world.

    I must sound weird saying all this. But if you must approach a wild animal, then you must always be aware of the animal etiquette. For example, you can see this even among your pets. They will never, for example, step over the prone bodies of their sleeping mates and cross over their bodies, unless they are completely juvenile or foolish. If one of your pets is irritated, the others will never ever stare at them in the eye or approach their zone. Doing so would lead to a fight. We humans do it unthinkingly, cross over the prone body of our pet – what must they think of us ill-mannered humans!!!

    😀 Thanks, Liz. Human arrogance and stupidity will never cease. But I hope a few people will realize how dangerous it really is.

    1. Human arrogance and stupidity sums is up well, Tejaswi. It’s interesting that you refer to ‘etiquette’ as that was what I had orginally titled my post. Over the last couple of years much effort has been made to keep the peninsula baboons away from the urban areas but it’s not always possible. Your comments on the correct etiquette in approaching animals in a non-threatening manner makes good advice; and as in this situation where there are house raiding incidents, remaining calm and using non- aggressive movements help in getting the creatures out.
      I’ve followed some of Anna Breytenbach’s work in communicating with wild animals and I’ve found that very insightful –
      We’re losing our instinctive knowledge and respect of the wild as we continue to destroy natural habitats.

      1. Yes, it is rather sad that the human-animal conflict is worsened usually by our lack of understanding.
        This is really interesting, I just had a cursory look at the site you mentioned. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the link 🙂

  3. Much as I agree with Tejaswi’s opinion, I can’t help but feel the header says it all; i.e. “Too close.” Too close in every way even though the risk of injury to tourists is so remote it’s perhaps the least likely outcome of such encounters.

    Signage proclaiming BABOONS are dangerous WILD animals – DO NOT FEED – Keep Doors Locked and Windows Closed is not erected to be read by or keep humans safe from baboons.

    It’s there because we and our roads are there and the frequency of such encounters puts our baboons at risk. It turns them into scavengers and puts them at the edge of a roadway where they run a great chance – should they move swiftly because of a human’s aggressive or unpredictable behaviour – of being injured or killed by passing cars or thugs.

    Fact: Baboons are not dangerous animals. Humans are. What makes these images disturbing, unsettling and sad is the thoughtless indifference we show baboons by engaging them in this way. Our stupidity initiates and perpetuates a long-term confrontational and potentially lethal dynamic (for the baboon) that could be avoided by more effective policing.

    From what I’ve picked up, the City’s service provider as done a remarkable job over the past few years of keeping human-baboon interactions to a minimum. But are we prepared to pay for more monitors or give them policing powers when troops do wander into urban areas or onto the urban fringe? As in fining people who strop their cars on the road and approach the animals in this way?

    Nope. It would be bad for tourism and that would be bad for business.

    The service provider can do only so much to keep the troops away from urban areas and arterial roads encroaching on or running through their ranges. Table Mountain National Park, its flora and fauna are in grave danger – and it is a danger not of the mountain’s – but our – making. Until we start rolling back rather than facilitating habitat degradation and loss, our baboons are on to a hiding to nothing.

    We’re more than too close for comfort. Increasingly, we’re becoming ‘far too close’ for the mountain and its myriad species of fauna and flora to survive. SANParks’ custodianship of the mountain (for all the bureaucratic ineptitude creeping through from the national to the local level) came just in time to give us a shot at saving the peninsula.

    But give us time. We’ll find a way to destroy it in the name of ‘eco-friendly tourism’ and ‘human needs’ trumping those of nature. We have about as much self-discipline and insight as baboons, but we’re far greedier, more self-deceptive and infinitely more dangerous than they could ever hope to be.

    Would that baboons could read. An appreciation of us as dangerous wild animals would serve them well.

    1. Well said, Mike. I was closely involved for a while in baboon management issues – mainly arising here in Simons Town. I started by photographing motorists feeding the animals, then sending in the proof with affadavits to the authorities. Do you know (to my knowledge) not one fine was ever successfully pursued. While the City fulfills their responsibility through funding the management, Cape Nature who are mandated to implement the policing and conservation policies, have failed to perform. As well, the failure to implement by-laws hampers the good progress made in keeping the baboon out if the human aspect – waste management and compliance is completely lacking. I feel so for the baboons – they movement is managed through ‘pain deterrence’ and their natural ways – male dispersal, troop movements to connect with other troops is compromised. It’s not healthy their gene pool has shrunk and that the excess adult males are being euthanised.
      I have a mean thought that it would far more fitting to use the paint ball guns on people who infringe the rules instead of the baboons.

    1. Yes, it’s best to give them some respect! This morning i went out cycling in the nature reserve and watched a troop of baboons happily going about their foraging. The juveniles were rough and tumbling, such a wonderful sight. It’s us humans who provoke the animals when they feel threatened or if there is food involved. Sad 😦

  4. having had baboons climb all over our kombi there is no way I would get so close to one, and I am sure if a human was to be attacked then the baboon population would come off worse.

  5. As you well know, Liz, this foolish behaviour is typical of what happens all the time on the coastal road leading to Cape Point and beyond. People just don’t seem to understand that although the Peninsula’s baboons are habituated to people, they are nonetheless still wild animals and should be treated with the respect they deserve …

    1. Isn’t this unacceptable, and it happened last week – the Smits troop. The rangers were further down the road – out of range. When I pulled over to ask this couple to back off they ignored me. Their vehicle door was wide open – they did at least close it when i pointed out that the baboons would get in. At this time of the year the HWC guys really need transport on site. Generally they have been able to keep them off the road, but more often i see that the troop give them the slip.

  6. “… At this time of the year the HWC guys really need transport on site.”

    There are many interesting comments on this thread but the subject is so loaded, it’s difficult to respond to many of them. I tend to come down hard on the baboons’ side while backing HWS’s protocols.

    I don’t believe in ‘aggressive’ baboons and most so-called attacks have resulted from dumb behaviour on the part of humans, e.g. cornering the baboon (or confronting a cornered baboon – be it in a house or car) in one way or another.

    Even in their notorious heyday, baboons fully habituated to human idiocy like Fred and Merlin were amenable to handing back stuff they’d ripped off tourists – if approached correctly. I really don’t like watching a baboon chow down blister packs of headache tablets and tranquilisers; it just doesn’t seem natural to me.

    Your above observation makes a lot of sense, Liz. I’ll be chatting to somebody in the know in the new year and will get back to you on the matter. The troops wandering north of the park really need a doubling up of rangers. I can see that the guys scrambling up the slopes can’t leave quad bikes down on the main drag (it wouldn’t be baboons nicking them), but they should be in contact with rangers who are mobile.

    Otherwise, ja … what Dina says above :).

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