A retrospective journey

I reached a milestone just the other day – five years of blogging!  Although initially i was a reluctant blogger and got off to a slow start i’m now hooked by the WordPress community spirit.

Thank you to my fellow bloggers who’ve followed, commented, liked, engaged in topics and made it all worthwhile. I enjoy the connection to this virtual world where i can pop over to the far corners of the globe, discover all manner of information; get involved in ‘conversations’ and be inspired so that my bucket list of destinations grows ever longer.

Those who follow my posts will know that my interest is documenting the activity on the urban edge, the overlap between humans and wildlife.

My story really started with Fred and this is the shot which kicked it off –


It was during the summer season of 2008 that Fred, the alpha-male of the Smitswinkel baboon troop came to the attention of residents and motorists in the area for his emboldened raiding of houses and cars.  He was to become quite an urban legend and even has an entry in Wikipedia.

This scene is a classic “Fred” shot  but one which is overlaid with much pathos.   While we laugh at the situation, it smacks of a sense of  failed ‘conservation awareness’.   Why would baboons want to raid cars, what was the attractant?   Was this learned behaviour and who are the real culprits in these scenarios?

Hope you’ll watch out for further posts as i dig through the archives on my”Retrospective Journey”.



WPC: Careful

Baboon_mother with baby

Female baboons are known to be attentive and patient mothers and in this scene the gentle cradling of her baby shows a careful touch.  Personally I think she has a look of motherly pride about her demeanour.  This particular baboon was in her prime when I took this shot in 2009.  She was the top ranking female and consort to Fred, the notorious Smitswinkel troop’s Alpha male.  This little fellow soon grew up pulling rank in the pecking order and became quite the most precocious of sons.

Keeping home and hearth tidy: the next shot shows a wagtail’s careful ‘house-keeping’ approach in this poop-scoop manoeuvre.  Capturing this moment on camera took a lot of patience and split-second timing.  By observing the chicks in the nest, I noticed how they presented their ‘rear-ends’ to the parent bird after being fed to offer up the waste package.  The nest was kept ‘spotless’ and even after flying the coop the parent birds kept up the practice for some days until the chicks were properly fledged.  Neat little creatures!

Wagtail parenting

Head over to the site to check out over examples of Careful in this week’s Photo Challenge.

Behind the image: two sides to a story.

Motorist gets caught out by Fred's clever door-opening technique.

Sometimes an image can be open to interpretation.  Take this photo for example, a picture of Fred the baboon, with two juveniles sitting happily in a car.  A car raid for sure, but was it the fault of carelessness on the motorist’s behalf?  What had happened that the baboons had taken control?   I took this photograph in May 2009, and to me it is as relevant today in summing up the ongoing symptomatic issues of a failed conservation policy.  Baboons learn to associate people and cars with food, and therein lies the problem.   Back in 2009 the Smitswinkel troop’s car raiding behaviour had already escalated and many motorists, particularly tourists were being caught out, unaware that baboons could open car doors.  In this incident a young couple had pulled over into one of the scenic lay-byes on the outskirts of Murdock Valley, where the troop were chilling some distance away.  Fred casually walked over and opened the rear passenger door.   It’s not what most people would expect, however they stayed calm and got out of the car.  It transpired that the woman had worked at a primate sanctuary and was familiar with the ways of monkeys.  She was aware that it was best not to challenge an alpha male and they quietly waited until eventually he and the juveniles left.  Then there were no warning signs conveying precautions to keep car doors locked and windows closed and one can sympathize that they were taken so completely off guard.

Since then signage has been erected along the scenic drive and there are fewer opportunities for car raids if people are sensible and heed the instructions.  Sadly  it was too late for Fred as his actions became ever more aggressive and the authorities were forced to put him down.  This particular photograph was the start of a collection which culminated in an exhibition at the Casa Labia in 2011.  It was a campaign to highlight the issues and draw attention to the plight of the Smitwinkel baboons, as well as the impact of our harmful human environment.

Take food out of the equation, not the baboons!

So here we have it – two more male baboons, Merlin and Force of the Smitswinkel troop are to be put down as they are deemed habitual raiders and have become aggressive.   Are you surprised?  I’m not.  It was inevitable, just as it was that Manuel the new incoming male became an accomplished raider within three weeks of arriving in the locale.   With attractants such as picnic areas, camping grounds, and an enticing restaurant where food is openly displayed and available, why wouldn’t the baboons become raiders? Top that off with people who illegally feed them, and residents with unsecured wastebins and the environment is rife with opportunity.  There is a fundamental flaw in the protection of the species when there’s a lack of management of the environment, which results in a perpetuated cycle of raiding and aggressive behaviour in the animals.  How sad it is that the baboons end up paying the price for peoples’ lack of accountability.

Merlin with a bag of bird seed.
Merlin and “Gogo”, his mate, have scored a bag of birdseed from one of the caravans in the campsite.
This photograph of Merlin and a juvenile was taken about a week after Fred was put down. The troop members appeared very subdued.
Here Force is raiding one of the fishing boats. The fishermen are not tolerant of the baboons, and often through out ‘decoy’ food to keep them away from getting onto the boats.

Merlin does his “Won’t Budge until I get the Food” trick. The occupants of both cars oblige by throwing out titbits – apple cores to get him off the car. It is illegal to feed baboons, but enforcing the law is not much in evidence.