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.

Hat’s off to baboons

A rustle of fur.

Sunbleached tresses, all windblown and tousled.  The Cape Peninsula Chacma baboons have a touch of the ‘beachcomber’ in their looks.  They’re rather unique in that they include shellfish and marine invertebrates in their diet and it’s quite a treat to observe them foraging in rock pools.

In contrast here is a shot of a male baboon from the arid regions of Namibia; it’s a wonder that baboons can survive in such extreme environments with little available water and soaring temperatures.  Recently I came across an article on their behavioural adaptations and the ability to thermoregulate the body core.  Temperature fluctuations occur when drinking water and sand bathing and could alter as much as 5.3*C.

Short back and sides, sparsely clad fur.

The Baboon species is the most adaptable of the non-human primates inhabiting a range of habitats from coastal, savannah, forest and desert ……. and some might even say that they’re pretty adept at living on the urban edge.

 

 

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 –

Walvis Bay salt pans: jackal and pup

Walvis is situated on a lagoon and is a designated Ramsar wetlands site.  It teems with coastal shorebirds and waders and is regarded as the most important coastal wetland in the Southern African sub-region in terms of bird numbers and is one of the three most important coastal wetlands in Africa.

Mornings are agreeably foggy, due to the cold Benguela current lacing the Atantic Ocean, until the land mass warms up and the fog lifts.  Included in the wetland area are the saltpans where many bird species congregate including greater and lesser flamingoes.  Among the common Paleartic migrants are curlew sandpipers, sanderlings and little stints.  It supports nearly two-thirds of the southern African population of chestnut plovers – the smallest of the true waders and as the name suggests it has a chestnut coloured breast band.

The birds come in to feed at low tide and there is an air of social comradeship as the various species band together to feed.  The flamingoes wade through in an elegant style, the pelicans are solid and squawk in gutteral tones, the small waders dash here and there.  Set to this background we photographers lurk trying hard not to be too intrusive, invisible.

I notice the spoor along the saltpan tidal edge before spotting the jackal.  It surprises me to see it in such an inhospitable environment.  I guess though that it would be an ideal place for hunting birds.

It turns out to be a young female and her behaviour appears furtive.  I notice her anxious looks peering back to an area where there are pipes and a pumping station.  She in beautiful condition.

Panning carefully with the binoculars i spot movement and there near one of the pipes is a small pup in front of an open cut pipe.   “Hey mum, wait for me …. ”   The little pup appears to be signalling.   So well camouflaged it’s difficult to spot the pup – for the reader, look just to the right of the road sign.

Mum is not responding, so pup opts for security and dives back into the pipe ‘den’.

Isn’t it fascinating how animals find an ‘eco-niche’ in transformed environments?   On the edge of the saltpans there is a thriving bird population and an obvious steady source of food – but fresh water is scarce.

Judging from the spoor tracks in the area there are a number of other animals, yet they blend so well into the back ground and on the beach side sandy hummocks stretch towards Pelican Point.

What a wonderful sighting, although we’d come to observe birds, what a bonus to spot a carnivore ‘seeing the gap’ and adapting to this rich area.