The charismatic African penguins living in my neighbourhood are back in the news. A notice was put out last month by the South African National Parks board that a strain of avian influenza virus (H5N8 strain) has been detected in the colony at Boulders Beach. So far penguin eighteen deaths have been noted. The state veterinarians are working to contain the outbreak. Let’s hope they succeed.
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.
Chacma baboon picking sourfigs.
The fruit of the sourfig is high in vitamin C
Seaching for sourfigs.
Baby rides jockey style.
A favourite scene – juveniles with a baby picking the berries from Rhus crenata.
Sister is playing nursemaid and keeping an eye on baby while mum forages.
So intent on eating his meal of Leucodendron cones.
Chacma baboons in restio field.
There’s always time for a bit of rough and tumble.
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.
Beach scene when the wind was blowing.
Heading to the rock pools.
The dash across the beach.
The sand was stinging that day.
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.
Smitswinkel troop on the road.
Every piece of plastic is a target for inspection by the baboons.
The contents of a refuse bag.
Baboons from the Waterfall troop sometimes make excursions into town to raid the rubbish bins –
Bin raid in Simons Town
Bread has a high calorie reward for a baboon.
Street bins are not locked and the lids easily knocked off.
The landscape, immediately after crossing the Orange River at the Noodoewer border post, takes on a desolate appearance.
The route through to Grünau, in the Karas Region goes over gravel plains and then as we head to Hobas – the viewpoint for the Fish River Canyon. Clumps of milkbush and granite outcrops form a backdrop to this arid Eden. As we travel we wonder which animal will be our first viewing of local wildlife? Take a guess?!
Yes!! Baboons! How remarkable that they have adapted and can find enough to sustain life in this tough environment. They are far leaner than the coastal cousins and their fur much finer. I worried about their feet pads burning on the scalding stones, but they appeared to walk quite comfortably but nimbly over the rocky terrain. Their diet would include mainly insects – scorpions, beetles and tuberous plants.
How to describe the spectacular Fish River Canyon? It draws the viewer’s eye into a terrain of riverting and rugged convolutions, twisting and turning. The information boards tell of ancient geological history, but i’m also fired by the local mythology and the story of Koutein Kooru, a giant snake frantically scrambling to get away from San hunters.
Impressively the oldest rocks here existed long before today’s continents were formed by the break up of the super continent Gondwana. The basement rocks are believed to be 2,000 million years old! At some point tectonic plate movement caused a huge block of the Earth’s crust to subside along deep-reaching faults and formed a deep trench. The geology was further shaped through the eons by dramatic forces – erosion, volcanic and climate action. The river has melded its way over millions of years and cut through the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex exposing horizontal layers of quartzite, gneiss and sedimentary layers.
It was one of those perfect spring days, warm and sunny and the local baboon troop came down to forage along the beach. Playful, curious and full of energy, the youngest baboons explore their surroundings. Observing them from a distance and not intruding into their space (keeping 10m away) is part of a photographer’s required etiquette around these wild animals.
The welcome rain continues to bring relief to the parched veld and urban gardens. Within days new shoots are greening up and animals appear to be coping, if not revelling in the fresh rainwater. Though we have a long way to go before the strict water restrictions can be eased.
Interesting to note the animals’ fur ‘fluffled up’ to create thermoregulation which helps to insulate and retain body heat.