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 –

Twyfelfontein: The Organ Pipes along with baboons

The rock formation is aptly named –  the basaltic lava colums rise like organ pipes some standing 5 m high.  The valley is small, though the rocks have a lofty appeal.  The harsh light throws an unforgiving cast and the colours reveal shades of ochre and tan.  There are four of us negotiating the downward path, stepping carefully as there is loose scree.   There is a strange vibe here and the first bars of Edvard Grieg’s grand orchestral piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” plays through my mind.  I imagine Peer Gynt striding through the scene as the sound of falling rock shatters the calm.  Into view comes a troop of baboons!

We spot baboons nine separate occasions through the trip, but they immediately clear out, vanishing from view. Not this time  – they take up seats in the pews above and we’re being scrutinised.   We, the interlopers to this geological attraction take care not to be too intrusive, guessing that they want to descend to find water in the damp sand.  It’s hot, searingly hot and i notice that their fur is fine and sparse and that males don’t have the magnificent ‘manes’ that the coastal species have.

There are about 25 – 30 in this troop; not large by wild standards but in this tough environment you’ve got to admire how they adapt to survive in the harsh conditions.

We let them be and head back out on the opposite side; the encounter adds a layer to the timeless mysteries of the area.