Res Nullius

Two separate encounters with different baboon troops this week left me wryly thinking about the strange anomaly in their conservation management.  They are a protected species here on the Peninsula but the job of conserving the troops falls under the management of different authorities.  There’s a certain irony even trying to curtail the movement of wild, agile creatures yet the troops living between the suburbs are assigned rangers to move them along and keep them out of the residential areas.  Broadly defined as “res nullius” – a thing belonging to no one whether because never appropriated (as a wild animal) – allows  certain wildlife authorities to conveniently pass the buck.  The main responsibility of the rangers is to prevent them from developing raiding patterns for seeking out human-derived food.

Pictured below are scenes of the Smitswinkel troop (which roam on the outside beyond the boundaries of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve) visiting the Reserve and raiding the facilities at the entrance, while the City’s contracted conservation rangers aren’t allowed in to chase them out!!

Juvenile baboons raiding a refuse bin at the entrance to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Juvenile baboon lifting window to widen the gap to get in.

Displaying his agility, a young baboon jumps clear after exiting a window.

Deeper into the CoGH park, here’s the scene where a local park troop rouses and warms in the rays of the early morning sun before setting off for the day’s foraging in the fynbos where for the most part, they roam freely without being tagged or monitored by full time rangers.

Baboons in the early morning light, gathering before moving on for the day.
Sheltering out of the cold wind, baboons warm in the sun, limbs tucked in tight to their bodies.
Enjoying the warmth of the early morning sunshine.

 

Roaming along the urban edge: dispersing male baboon

Some years ago this young baboon came on a ‘recce’ round our neighbourhood.  It’s not an easy life  when that testosterone kicks in and the males leave the natal troop to hook up with another.  Dispersing along the urban edge brings a raft of problems not least finding the way through the suburbs. To assist them they are often darted with a sedative and transferred by vehicle to another area where there are nearby troops. The transition and being accepted into another troop takes time, and it’s not always successful.

The Summer Season

It rained on New Year’s eve here in Cape Town and we awoke at dawn on the morning of the 1st to the gentle patter of raindrops still falling.  Now five days later it’s back to parched earth and the dam level aggregate has dropped to 29.1%.  We are worried; very worried.  The City Council warns that Day Zero could happen as early as 18 March – that is when the taps will be switched off and citizens will have to queue for water at designated collection points.

Meanwhile the summer season is in full swing; beaches, scenic sights, vineyards, restaurants are all buzzing with festivities and happy visitors.   At times residents feel overwhelmed and scuttle off to the lesser known spots. Or get up early to beat the queues to the beach or nature parks.

This past week the mornings have been sweetly scented and cool and as we’ve set out to hike or cycle through our favourite nature reserve we’ve tended to see animals on the move, generally moving through an area foraging.   Recent sightings of five different baboon troops highlight how their behaviour changes when their territory overlaps with the park’s recreational areas or how the attractants in town, like the refuse bins lure them off the mountain. For most of the year the baboons forage on natural vegetation or in the rock pools.  Come summer and the picnic spots draw them like bees to a honeypot.

Below the Buffels troop check out the barbecue area for scraps.

In contrast the baboons in the photos (below) of the Kanonkop troop like to forage in natural vegetation.

On the Atlantic side of the Peninsula, another troop – probably the Olifantsbos troop dash across the beach in a strong breeze to get to the rock pools to forage for mussels and other shellfish delicacies.

The Smitswinkel troop are generally kept off the road by the conservation rangers, but this season we’ve found them on the road several times – a hazardous situation for both baboons and motorists.

Baboons from the Waterfall troop sometimes make excursions into town to raid the rubbish bins –