Baboons in fynbos

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’.

A confident posture and bearing marks this alpha male. He is in peak condition and commands respect from the ranks.
Layers of thick hair serve as protection from winter’s chilly temperature.
Foraging on the fruit of wild olive trees, Olea europaea subsp. africana.  
They tuck in with gusto feasting on the ripe black olives. I too sampled a couple curious to test the flavour. Pleasant enough, the initial bite was grape-like, and then with a bitter after taste.
It was most surprising to see this plant on the menu: Cullumia squarrosa, or snake thistle. It’s a prickly little number! I had in the past seen them eating the flowers, but not the the needle like leaves. Reading a description of the plant, the inner involucral bracts are without prickles and I noted that they were only plucking off the top most growth.
They certainly get a good portion of fiber in their diet.  This plant is endemic to the Cape Peninsula – a coastal bush found only in the extreme south western Cape.

12 thoughts on “Baboons in fynbos

    1. Yes! So happy to report that Spring is shaping up beautifully after the excellent rainfall over winter. Already the plants are bursting forth in bloom and the veld is swathed in colour it’s going to be a glorious flower season. After the lean years of drought guessing there will be many babies this year!

  1. Glad to hear you had good rainfall this year. I imagine the land will take on a bright look this spring. As always, your photography shines, especially that image of the alpha male. What a cocky looking fellow!

    1. Thanks, Susanne. It’s always lovely to receive your comments 🙂 Spring is shaping up beautifully, swathes of colour are appearing on the mountainsides amidst the shades of verdant green. The dams are at overall average are around 82% full. Sigh of relief after the scare last year of the city’s taps running dry!
      Yes, those alpha males assume a serious swagger 🙂

    1. Thanks the apt comment, Carol. Compared to the baboons living outside the park and monitored by CoCT’s conservation contractor, there is a difference in their temperament. Having to forage naturally is a focus through the day, whereas the baboons raiding in the urban space are often hyped up on adrenaline and have a skewered social hierarchy.

      1. Thank you Liz. Are there any troops or members of troops that move in and out of the park and so also seek food in urban environments, or do those in the park tend to remain there? The lives of baboons in troops in the urban areas is tough and from what I have read “management” practices (including killing animals that are targeted) can be damaging to the social structures of troops and can be counterproductive in terms of preventing “raiding” behaviour, or is this a misconception?

      2. Yes, there are a couple of troops which roam between the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve and urban edge. Also a third troop, which lives outside the park on the outskirts of the urban edge, attempt to enter the park, often through the main entrance (opportunistically raiding cars and bins).
        There is a ‘management’ raiding protocol, which was recently amended and is less lenient – three house raids and they can be euthanized. There used to be a list of mitigating factors but that appears to have been removed. Generally the adult / dispersing males develop raiding patterns, or in the case where there are open recreational facilities- picnic/camping areas, vineyards, restaurants, the females will also take advantage. It is damaging to their social structures when the high ranking males are killed. Yes it is counterproductive as it knocks out the cohesion and discipline which comes with a ‘pecking order’. Sadly they’re in a hopeless situation as the attractants in the urban areas and unsecured anthropogenic food sources are just too tempting to resist. Many fear that the days are numbered for the free roaming troops outside the park. COCT officials make comments such as the rising cost of budgeting for their management is unsustainable.
        The troops living in the Constantia valley are also at risk – SANParks, in my opinion, shirk their responsibility by not curtailing the troops movements beyond the boundaries of the Table Mountain reserve.
        They’re such an iconic part of the peninsula that it will be a great loss, yet it appears inevitable.

      3. Hi Liz, thank you so much for taking the trouble for such a detailed reply. Sadly, you confirm the impression that I had been getting of the seemingly intractable situation. Not only is it tragic for the baboons, but it will be a great loss for us too. It is so sad that so many humans are unwilling to adapt their behavior so as to minimize attracting baboons for easy pickings – that coupled with the ongoing squeeze on natural habitat and food sources for the baboons. It really is hard to be anything other than despondent.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Alison. It is indeed a fortunate situation! City of Cape Town, is one of a handful of cities which has a nature reserve which integral to the city without hard boundaries, except for the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve. Makes for vibrant interconnections…

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