Baboons back in paintball gun cross hairs

Paintball guns are used to deter baboons from entering urban areas.

In the Constantia area in the past few weeks, two baboons have been killed and a third was euthanised by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA. Three baboons in southern troops have also been killed.

Of the six baboons killed, four died from pellet-gun wounds, one from unrelated injuries, also revealing the presence of multiple pellet wounds, and one due to a suspected dog attack in the urban area.

The City also reports a threefold increase in baboon raiding, a shift in baboon-ranging areas into urban space and two attacks on baboon rangers in the Kommetjie area.

This has prompted a new trial of paintball guns.

Statistics recorded from Friday May 14 to Monday May 31 show the raiding of houses – while people were inside – increased by 178% from 14 to 39 known incidents.

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA, Cape Nature and the City of Cape Town have all agreed on using paintball guns, but with revised rules. Their use will be reconsidered after a six-month trial period.

Westlake-based NCC Environmental Services, the City’s baboon-management contractor, will check baboon rangers can use the paintball guns in line with the new rules, which are on the City’s website, while CapeNature and the Cape of Good Hope SPCA will monitor their use.

This change of heart was announced on Friday June 25 in a joint statement from the City, Cape Nature and the SPCA.

According to the statement, the paintball guns will be used while baboon-management guidelines are reviewed.

City biodiversity manager Julia Wood said that in the absence of paintball markers, the Tokai troop of about 100 baboons had begun expanding its ranging area, crossing Orpen Road and moving into urban areas.

“This troop has not exhibited this ranging behaviour since the introduction of paintball markers approximately ten years ago. The return of the paintball markers has assisted the rangers in keeping the troop in the non-urban areas more often. Unfortunately, however, as this and other troops have now experienced food rewards in the urban space, it will take time for the rangers to re-establish the former boundary lines in the natural space.”

The rules for using the paintball guns were revised by the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, CapeNature, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, UCT researchers, field specialists, and the City after it was agreed there was growing risk to baboons and residents alike the longer the primates were allowed to enter urban areas on the edge of their habitat.

During the six-month trial period, CapeNature, and not the City, will make any decisions on relocations or euthanasia.

However, the City warned it could take months to see a change in baboon troops’ behaviour.

Residents and business owners should manage waste responsibly, store bins where baboons could not get to them and, where possible, enclose vegetable gardens, the City said, adding that it would issue new-design, lockable bins to areas near baboon troops from Friday October 1.

Dr Ernst Baard, CapeNature’s executive director of conservation operations, said special permission was needed from CapeNature to use paintball guns for baboon management.

“Accordingly, the inhumane use of paintball markers needs to be investigated under the Animal Protection Act and a decision taken what procedures would need to be followed,” he said.

Should paintball guns be used without special permission, he said, CapeNature would investigate under the Nature Conservation Ordinance. If the inhumane use of paintball guns was suspected, the SPCA would investigate under the Animal Protection Act.

Jaco Pieterse, chief inspector of the SPCA, said that while they could not prohibit the use of paintball guns to deter baboons, it was an offence under the Animal Protection Act to use them in a way that caused any animal unnecessary suffering.

The SPCA had made sure conditions for the humane use of paintball guns were clear in the revised rules for their use, he said.

Ms Wood said the paintball guns had a range of up to 20m and apart from baboon-proof fencing, no other currently available tool was as efficient at keeping baboons out of urban areas.

In the absence of paintball guns, the Tokai baboon troop began expanding its ranging area, crossing Orpen Road and moving into urban areas.
The City will issue new-design, lockable bins to areas near baboon troops from Friday October 1.