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.

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.

 

 

 

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.