Primate One-Upmanship: The Sunglasses Heist.

Well blow me down!  Half a world away from the wiley baboons of the Cape Peninsula, (South Africa) here in South East Asia,  Cambodia – the Angkor Wat troop of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have similar tactics, grabbing an item and waiting for the gullible human to offer decoy food in exchange.

 

Co-conspirators waiting for the right break…..
Here they are: the gullible people, who dished out the biscuits and note the sunglasses worn by Mr.                                           “Oh, I am so cute, you will feed me….”, says Little Miss Long-Tail.
“There now, here’s the biscuit …. give me the glasses?”
“The handover; got the glasses, here have some more food…..”

There you have it.  Feed wild animals, habituate them to receiving food, they become pests and then they “steal” items in exchange for food.  Clever creatures.

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.

Wild Baboons, Buck and Ostrich at Olifantsbos Beach, Cape of Good Hope

Winter at the Cape Peninsula can be petulant: wild and stormy with the Atlantic sea crashing in with dramatic drift and flow contrasted with the calmest sheerest-whisper-of-wind days.  Returning after months away traveling to tropical countries, this for me is the best time of year to be in Cape Town.  Though home is in the southern peninsula – away from the city lights where nature shows her untrammeled face.  I have written quite a few posts on Olifantsbos Beach, here , here  and here. This working beach with it’s natural processes attracts diners to a veritable feast.   Seabirds flock here and recently i visited hoping to photograph the African Black Oystercatchers but instead got totally distracted by a gaggle of Egyptian geese in mating mode. Their strut and ‘necking’ stole the show.  Then the ostriches showed up, the buck and the baboons …..

Matching the colours of the kelp, Egyptian Geese gather into a gaggle.
The Egyptian geese spectacle.

A wobble of ostrich.

 

This Chacma baboon troop is one of the wild troops living within the park. There are only two troops which aren’t habituated to raiding anthropogenic food sources and forage only in natural fynbos and the rock pools for shellfish.  The rest of the troops are under threat one way or another, either through being attracted into residential areas or through poor conservation practice.  Generally there is an overlap into their home range where human recreational facilities feature vineyards, restaurants, picnic and campsites.  If baboons know they are going to get easy rewards and when residents and property owners do not secure garbage bins or adequately baboon-proof their properties / homes, baboon raiding patterns become entrenched as they will return over and over.  If they learn to rely on human food it voids their inherent role in the ecosystem and disrupts their social relationships.  They can become aggressive and when they have to be euthanised there is much outrage often from the humans who are the cause of the entrenched raiding patterns in the first place.  While SANParks recognise the ‘res nullius’ free roaming status of baboons, there is a lack of law enforcement for fining people who feed the animals nor are there enforceable by-laws for securing garbage so ultimately it’s the baboons which suffer the consequences.

The Namibs’ existence hangs in the balance

Tough drought conditions and hyena predation have taken a drastic toll on the wild horses and their numbers have dropped tragically from 286 to 76 over the last few years.  Sadly, since 2012 and up until late February, none of the foals have survived and the youngest mare is now 8 years old.  Yet could there be the slimmest chance that the wild horses can come back from the brink of extinction? Hope now rests with February’s newborn foal,  a little filly, just a couple of months old ……..

But let me pick up the story where i left off in the previous post!

As the horses drew closer to the water trough it appeared to us there was raucous delight in their greetings, upbeat nickering and neighing.   From a distance we could hear the thrum of galloping and watched in awe as a group of bachelor stallions came roaring in, stirring up dust clouds and arriving in a swirl of energy.

The scene was filled with their dynamic presence.  After slaking their thirst, it was time to sandbathe and attend to additional dietary needs by feeding on nutrient-rich dried manure.  Coprophagy is a natural behaviour and an energy-efficient way of deriving nutrients.  The Wild Horses’ manure contains almost three times more fat than the area’s dry grass (Stipagrostis obtusa) and almost twice as much protein (6.1 instead of 3.1%).*

Coprophagy manure adds nutrients to a sparse diet.

To give a contrasting glimpse at the hardships and the tough conditions which the Wild Namibs endure at the edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, here are a couple of shots taken in 2017.   Drought seared the land and the animals were so pitifully emaciated, but for the dedicated work undertaken by the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, it is doubtful whether they would survive.   Through the years the foundation has raised finances to provide supplementary feed for the horses as well as pursuing with dogged determination negotiations with the Namibian MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in saving the herd from extinction.

Further details in my next post will reveal “Zohra, the Little Foal”.  Keep a lookout it’s coming soon!  Below is a link to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation and the critical work which they undertake.

 

* More information can  be found here.

 

Walking with vervet monkeys

Here’s the scene: In lush contrast to the desert regions of Namibia, the Zambezi Region (Caprivi) is a tropical wetlands area.  Namushasha River Lodge is set on the banks of the Kwando river on the curve of an oxbow lake, where pods of hippos wallow in muddy grandeur.   It’s rich riverine ecology extends beyond the dense stands of Jackalberry and Mangosteen trees over extensive reedbeds to the distant game-spattered floodplains.

It’s bounded on all side by wild game parks and it’s up there in the rank of ‘coolness’ not just for its shady campsites but for it’s splendid setting and gorgeous lodge facilities, swimming pool and watering hole.

A popular wallowing spot for hippos.

A walk along the path at the edge of the river revealed an unexpected encounter (there are warning signs to watch out for crocodiles and hippos, though fortunately avoided).   The sound of leaves rustling gave them away……

Little faces peeked down at me as a gathering of vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus pygerythrus) came to assess this other primate intruder: friend or foe?  The alpha male bared his teeth, signalling his status.   Averting eye contact, i sat quietly wondering what would happen next.

Their curiosity won out and soon they had descended from their leafy domain to forage in the leaf litter below.  Keeping a discreet distance my presence appeared not to bother them and i was able to keenly observe their long limbed grace and agility.  Predominantly they’re found in savannah woodland, but here they’ve settled in this paradise alongside the fruit trees and breakfast options at the lodge.