Baboon matters

John Green, Tokai

I am not aware of the facts regarding any hunting that may be taking place on the wine estates (“Permission to hunt baboons”, Bulletin July 5).

I have heard many unsubstantiated rumours and I would like to give a brief background to an unsustainable situation which has been developing for many years.

I suspect that what is now purported to have happened is an inevitable consequence. It has major implications for both the City of Cape Town’s highly internationally respected baboon management and for the international reputation of the Constantia wine estates and the South African wine industry.

Through my involvement in the original Friends of Tokai Forest from 1996 until the SANParks takeover about 10 years later, and as a resident of Tokai and Zwaanswyk, which was increasingly impacted by baboons after the fires of 2000 and 2005, I became involved in mitigating conflict between the Tokai forest baboons and the increasing human expansion on the urban edge.

Over the past 20 years the Tokai/ Constantiaberg baboon population has doubled from about 120/130 baboons, in one major troop habituated to the Tokai forest plantations, to some 250 baboons in five troops competing for food and territory in an area where the Tokai plantations have all but disappeared due to successive major fires (particularly in 2015) and the policy of clear-felling. This has increasingly put huge pressure on the urban edge.

Being the closest urban edge inhabitants adjacent to main Tokai troop, with absolutely no hard boundaries between the forest and urban edge, the Zwaanswyk community (which had previously had no significant conflict with baboons) took increasing strain and at times had the entire baboon population in the residential area.

By 2010 the situation had become intolerable and the Zwaanswyk residents agreed to become a special rating area and erected a 2.3 km highly effective baboon proof fence around the enclave in 2012.

This denied baboons the rich pickings of human derived food from Zwaanswyk, and the troops then increasingly moved north above and onto the Constantia wine estates.

The destruction of the Tokai plantations in the March 2015 fire had a huge additional impact: overnight the main food supply from the pines disappeared, the baboons resisted moving up the mountain, where the fynbos had also been destroyed and also because of the approaching cold winter. They moved downwards into the wine estates.

Since the Zwaanswyk fence in 2012, the population of the Constantia and Mountain troops had increased 70% by end 2017: from 93 individuals to 157 baboons and by 25% since the fire.

The wine estates have made major investments in improving both electric fencing and in management, and last year we combined with them to invest in special collars and new technology virtual fencing to dissuade baboons from habituating on the farms.

I have not been involved since then.

Dr Alanna Rebelo, Bergvliet

It is really sad that it has come to this (“Permission to hunt baboons,” Bulletin July 5)but I suppose in a natural system there would have been predators picking baboons off.

So I suppose a few being professionally hunted is maybe not so bad?

There are certainly worse fates for baboons, including being mauled by dogs, knocked over by cars, attacked by people…

These Constantia wine farmers are going to come under such scrutiny (and possibly hate attacks) by the public. However isn’t it all so ridiculous that we only get upset by what we easily see?

Farmers further afield may do far worse things (for example gin traps) and yet because no one “sees” it, they get no backlash.

We as the public need to be careful how we judge and direct our anger.

Still, the impact of our agriculture on wildlife is staggering. We should all be taking steps to reduce our consumption and not to just buy the cheapest products out there.

We should be promoting agriculture that is more friendly towards wildlife.