Baboons in Fynbos v. Urban space

Living at the urban edge brings daily encounters with wild neighbours. Some animals adapt to the transformed environment finding perfect eco-niches. Guinea fowl scratch around in garden beds, mongoose ferret out lizard eggs, or birds’ nests, the nocturnal visitors such as porcupine and genet roam about at night, and the occasional caracal stalks out prey at dawn and dusk. Just down the road live the penguins, and in caves in the mountains above, the Chacma baboons find sleeping sites for the night.

Baboons on the Cape Peninsula have a checkered existence. The 5 troops that inhabit the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which encompasses 7,750 hectares of diverse habitats – from rocky mountains to coastal beaches, roam freely. Some troops even jump the fence to venture beyond the park. The other 11 troops are confined to small pockets of fragmented land at the interface of urban-green space. It is difficult to limit the animals to a natural boundary and the proximity to residential areas fuels ongoing human-wildlife conflict. Even though these ‘outside’ troops are managed by an appointed conservation contractor and assigned rangers to curb their encroachment into the urban area, it was never going to be easy to prevent opportunistic foraging for the best or easiest food returns. Conducted studies show that there are “extreme behavioural shifts by baboons exploiting risky resource-rich human modified environments.”

The troops living within COGH nature reserve go about their day, amongst the fynbos at a leisurely and unhurried pace roaming at will, their inherent foraging and social behaviour intact. This is a far cry from the baboons that foray into the suburban areas where the animals split into raiding parties, and venture off in separate directions.

10 thoughts on “Baboons in Fynbos v. Urban space

  1. Are there restrictions in the urban areas where baboons forage for human food that will make it safe for them so they don’t get into trouble and/or trash receptacles that lock to keep the baboons from getting at the food thrown away? I just watched a rather long documentary on the African penguin and their encroachment into urban areas, but I suppose since they are on the verge of extinction there are fewer human/penguin interactions.

    1. Sadly there are no by-laws to enforce restrictions such as securing refuse bins, although most residents do comply. It is illegal to feed or harm baboons, but again the law isn’t enforced so people get away with it. Fortunately it is easier to keep penguins contained to specific nesting areas, although they do find ways to dodge the fenced off spaces. The wildlife authorities are have made strides to keep them protected on land; shrinking bait prey and predators out at sea are a concern, as are the climate changes impacting them. Chicks succumb to high summer temperatures, and the adults abandon eggs in the nest to escape to the cool waters. Conservation efforts are in play now using temperature probes in nests to warn when temperatures are getting too high and action can be taken to save chicks or rescue eggs. It’s alarming that predictions estimate that they could be extinct by 2026!

      1. I hope that the people who are in power that can enforce stricter laws to protect the baboon population, they are a necessary part of the cape’s ecosystem, as are the penguins that are falling prey to the increasing temperatures, proactive steps are needed before these incredible animals are lost. It is heartbreaking to know what needs to be done and feel helpless. That is how I feel about the American mountain lion that is open to useless trophy hunting.

      2. That feeling of being helpless can really be overwhelming….. sometimes one just wants to curl up in despair. Community has for years been trying to get conservation laws enforced! Trials for moving penguins to new locations where there are better stocks of fish are being tried. Fingers crossed that they have success.

  2. Wonderful photos Liz. I think I’d be pretty scared having baboons clambering over my roof and through my garden though I guess we all learn to live with urban or urbanized wildlife. In North Vancouver it’s foraging bears, and in India (and most of SE Asia) it’s macaques who show no mercy, oh and leopards! I suppose one adjusts to what you’re raised with.

    1. Greetings Alison. Fortunately the baboons aren’t as scary as those carnivores and bears! I guess we learn to be ‘savvy’ in dealing with respective wildlife…. here our best defense is having baboon-proofed properties and secured refuse bins. Not that that solves the issue of raiding as there are so many attractive plant options growing in gardens. The trick is to keep them out of the homes and from raiding kitchens. Not always an easy task!

      1. I’m reminded of the answer as to why it’s impossible to design a truly bear-proof garbage bin. The reply was that there’s considerable overlap between the smartest bears and the stupidest humans lol.

  3. I am delighted to read your well-reasoned and beautifully illustrated views on baboons once more. In this case your contrasting photographs reveal the differences very starkly. Having spent time at the Mountain Zebra National Park during this past week, I was immediately drawn to your introduction. The behaviour of the baboons I watched there are akin to your initial descriptions … then come the urban scenes…

    1. Thanks for the comments, Anne. It’s very sad for these charismatic creatures, the urban-edge is a dangerous place and keeping them out of the residential suburbs is an insoluble problem!

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