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 …..
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spring has wafted in bringing some relief from the drought as swathes of wild flowers stretch across the veld. There’s an air of triumph about – a flap of wings and the squawking of little hatchlings. A welcome sight in our backyard is a newly fledged Cape wagtail chick. It plopped out of the nest like a little plum pudding and landed with a bump. The parents continue to fuss around encouraging it to fly, following with encouraging tweets.
Initially there was a setback with the first nest when it was abandoned after the local baboon troop came for a visit through the neighbourhood. They’d spent a week constructing a perfect little structure and had just lined it with soft feathers when the furry visitors rudely clambered right up the very jasmine creeper where it was sited and partially dislodged it in their rush to jump over the wall. The birds were so spooked that they took off and disappeared for a while before returning to choose a new site to rebuild. Happily there was a successful outcome and if the pattern of past years is repeated the adult pair may well produce two more batches of chicks this season.
As baby baboons develop they progess from clinging below their mothers’ bellies to riding atop their backs. This juvenile baboon is probably old enough to be walking alongside its mother; instead it displays a rather confident riding ‘style’.