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.

Grape-scented condoms, abalone poachers and baboons

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.

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 –