Feasting on pincushion blooms (Leucospermum conocarpodendron), a young juvenile baboon, while handling the flowers gets covered in pollen. As he scrambles across the bush he’ll provide a useful service of cross pollination by brushing against the pollen and spreading it to different flowers. There he is fulfilling an ecological role as a part of a functioning ecosystem.
How do these three aspects connect you may wonder? Strewn about condom wrappers could perhaps conjure up images of hot sex orgies in the bush? The scene is set in a secluded picnic area in Buffels Bay in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve so one might have anticipated a bit of hanky-panky. But there’s a far more sinister reason for the empty wrappers and that’s where the abalone poachers come in. Diving for abalone is prohibited, but there are all the tell-tale signs of illegal poaching activities – shucked abalone shells, evidence of overnight campsites, even at times wetsuits stashed in the bush. The condoms are used as an outer waterproof covering for cell phones which are set to vibrate in case of warning signals when the divers are ready to exit the water. How sad it is that the stocks of this edible delicacy are being wiped out. No guesses needed as to where the end product (cured and smoked) ends up – yes China!
Being curious creatures, the baboons are attracted to litter and will often taste test the various discarded items particularly if there are lingering food scents. To discover them sucking on these grape-scented wrappers was totally disconcerting. On closer inspection the condom packs turned out to be the government issued “freebies”, never mind that they are supplied as part of the drive to curb the HIV/Aids pandemic.
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!!
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.
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.
Grooming is that all important part of a baboon’s daily activity.