The male Chacma baboon, SK11, known as Kataza, is facing yet another move: this time to a rehabilitation centre in Limpopo.
On Thursday, January 7, the City of Cape Town said it had met with the Cape of Good Hope SPCA two days prior to discuss the future of the baboon, which has not re-integrated with its natal Slangkop troop in the Kommetjie area.
The story of Kataza’s move from Kommetjie to Tokai, of the baboon being lured back to Kommetjie unofficially, and then the saga of the primate’s interrupted integration with the Tokai group sparked heated debates among animal-rights activists and scientists and threats of legal action.
Noordhoek lawyer Ryno Englebrecht accused the City of animal cruelty and threatened to take it to court unless it returned Kataza to Kommetjie. At first, the City said it would defend its decision but later rolled over and returned the baboon to Kommetjie in November.
Mr Engelbrecht said on Tuesday that the bottom line was that Kataza was not integrating in any of the troops and had been left alone to raid properties for far too long. “His raiding is continuing, which is a danger to himself and others.“
Esme Beamish, an expert in baboon behavioural ecology, said Kataza had integrated with the Tokai troop, regularly interacting and even copulating with unrelated females.
“When Kataza was captured in Tokai and placed on the back of a bakkie, he was, to everyone’s surprise, followed by the troop for over a kilometre – a behaviour indicating his acceptance by and social importance to the troop,” she said.
“However,“ she added, ”his urban raiding habits, a result of excessive habituation to people and human food acquired in the south during lockdown, were not easily unlearned.“
The baboon’s raiding behaviour was discussed at the January 5 meeting between the City’s baboon stakeholders and the SPCA. It was agreed that the baboon had failed to re-integrate with the Slangkop troop since its return.
Ms Beamish said Kataza had been monitored from Kommetjie to Capri to Da Gama, Sun Valley and Fish Hoek. She said apart from just over a week socialising with the Da Gama troop and fighting with the alpha male, the baboon had spent 52 of its 60-day sojourn in the south, alone – by choice.
“Most of this time has been spent in and around houses, shops and gardens, reinforcing the bad habits he acquired in Kommetjie. Entering occupied houses on multiple occasions daily is a sad indicator of his excessive habituation to the human environment. His behaviour highlights the simple fact that single male baboons cannot be prevented from entering urban areas using any of the approved methods. Hence the management focus remains on troops,” she said.
A decision was taken at the meeting that if the baboon reached Tokai on its own accord by Monday January 11, it would be allowed to integrate and its raiding behaviour would be monitored.
However, that did not happen, and, on Tuesday, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA applied to CapeNature for a permit to have Kataza moved to the Riverside rehabilitation centre run by primatologist Bob Venter in Limpopo. At the centre, Kataza will be gradually introduced to a new troop and rehabilitated before being released into the wild. The SPCA is willing to absorb all the costs involved in the relocation of Kataza.
In a statement, the SPCA said it had sought the permit in the best interests of Kataza, the other animals in the area and the residents.
Ms Beamish said that, however well-intentioned, the “ill-informed and misguided” actions and proposals of animal-activist lobby groups had achieved little other than reduce the time and money available to improve the welfare and conservation of baboons and other wildlife on the peninsula.
“If Kataza leaves a legacy,” she said, “it is that befriending a baboon is not only bad for the baboon but for the community, who will remain divided on how best to manage that baboon in urban areas.”