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.

Post Fire Scenes at Cape of Good Hope

Returning home after some weeks away, the first order of the day is catching up on local events and life round the neighbourhood.  These scenes at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, are of the area impacted by a ravaging fire in early March and are so devastatingly familiar.   This is an area where we often cycle and part of the cycle track goes right through the middle of this desolation and we’re gripped both by a sense of loss and awe.  That the fynbos vegetation which forms part of this extraordinary Cape Floral Kingdom, is sustained and flourishes in such nutrient poor soil is remarkable.  Stripped of the green foliage, the revealed soil looks much like beach sand (from quartzite).  Parts look like wastelands, but in some areas green shoots  are already appearing attracting browsers like buck and zebra.  The geophytes, such as the red Candelabra lilies (Brunsvigia orientalis) are flowering profusely and against the burned vegetation look quite stunning.  With climate change affecting local weather patterns, predictions for Cape Town are that total rainfall will decrease by between 10% – 30% over the next 50 years.  Fire frequency and intensity will undoubtedly increase, putting post fire vegetation reseeding under further pressure. We’re hoping this year that the seasonal rainfall over the winter months will break the current drought cycle.

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.