Researchers plan to survey 500 to 1000 residents of several Cape Peninsula suburbs, asking them to give their views on baboons.
The Baboon Attitudes Research Project is part of the overarching Unruly Natures research programme and is led by Johan Enqvist, a researcher at Stockholm University. He is being helped by two other academics, Kinga Psiuk, from Stockholm University, and Luke Metelerkamp, from Stellenbosch University, and five field workers who will assist with data collection.
The Unruly Natures programme is being funded until 2025 by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development through the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.
By asking residents to fill in a 15-20 minute survey on a tablet or paper, the project aims to get a better understanding of residents’ own experiences of and attitudes towards baboons and know what it is like to live in neighbourhoods that are regularly visited by baboons.
According to the research project’s website, the presence of wildlife in cities is a very relevant research topic in many parts of the world.
“Some wildlife find ways to survive or even thrive in cities’ predator-scarce, food-rich and artificially heated landscapes. Examples include otters in Singapore, badgers across UK towns, humpback whales in New York harbour, and leopards in Mumbai. This can lead to both positive and negative interactions between people and wildlife. Public opinion and understanding are often divided regarding the best way to respond to the presence of wildlife in cities. The urban setting, therefore, poses new challenges to landscape management, wildlife conservation, and environmental stewardship,” the site states.
Mr Enqvist says they are not baboon experts but rather researchers who want to understand how communities deal with this type of challenge.
“We are very conscious that this is a topic that is often hotly debated and controversial. We know that in some areas there are initiatives being run by local residents, in addition to the plan currently being run by the City. We don’t want to interfere with those or disrupt any work that is going on locally. So that is why we are in constant dialogue with residents in different areas to keep track of what’s happening in the area through our advisory board.
“More broadly we want the project to benefit communities in the sense that we are not going to advocate for one solution or approach to management. However, what we do feel is that any policy or any kind of approach will benefit from having better knowledge of what people actually think. Knowing about residents’ experience and what their typical view on baboons is is useful information. It will be important to share that knowledge with policymakers, decision makers, local residents or anyone who is active in that space.”
Some of Mr Enqvists earlier research projects in Cape Town investigated how the city’s recent water crisis affected people’s awareness of, concern for and ability to act to conserve water resources
“The move in focus on baboons instead of water might seem like a big jump, but, for me, it is quite similar. It is about how people deal with this kind of external disturbances or shocks that are a little bit unpredictable. That is what my research interests are.
“There are a little over 3000 houses in areas that are visited by baboons across the peninsula. We are aiming to get between 500 and 1000 residents’ responses. Depending on how eager people are to participate, that would get us somewhere between every third or every sixth household. It is hard to say exactly where we will land.”
The Unruly Natures team has already surveyed Capri residents. Other areas to be visited are Ocean View, from May 10 to 27; Da Gama Park from May 16 to 27; Zwaanswyk/Tokai/Forest Glade, from May 22 to 27; Murdock Valley from May 22 to 27; Simon’s Town from May 22 to June 3; Constantia from May 29 to June 8; Welcome Glen from May 29 to June 8; and Kommetjie from May 29 to June 8.
Dates are tentative and there might be delays as fieldwork is unpredictable, says Mr Enqvist.
Ben Cousins, an emeritus professor in poverty, land and agrarian studies at UWC, hopes to encourage wide participation, as the advisory board member for Simon’s Town.
“Given that residents in the south peninsula are at the ‘front-line’ of baboon-human interactions, and often express both negative and positive feelings about those interactions, it is essential to gather reliable data about their perspectives of the ‘baboon issue’. These can usefully inform policy and management policy. The area within Simon’s Town through which the Waterfall troop move on a regular basis is a very challenging site for this kind of research. Emotions run high and run the gamut from very negative to very positive feelings about baboons. There is also a large group of residents somewhere between these extremes. The project has to convince people from across this range of opinion to participate in field research and contribute their experiences and views.”
Zwaanswyk advisory board member Caroline Brown says the experiences, attitudes and perspectives of the people living in baboon-affected communities are not fully understood.
“I think this is really important research. This research only seeks to gather and understand the range of experiences and views and does not try to impact in any way on changing or advancing the understanding that people have about baboons.
“The views that are expressed about baboons on social media and other platforms are often from people who hold extreme views on either side, and people who are more private about their perspective are often not heard in the debate. However, this research is anonymous and seeks to hear from everyone, whatever a person’s views about living alongside baboons might be.”
Parkscape chair and Tokai advisory board member Nicky Schmidt says understanding the views of all community members can provide insight into the broader issue of urban baboon management.
“In the denser suburban areas of Cape Town, like Tokai, there may be people who, as much as they love our wildlife, aren’t used to, don’t know how to deal with or want to have wildlife – especially if they find that wildlife threatening – in the personal sanctuary of their homes. I also think there may be people who would like to be heard but who don’t have the opportunity to be heard through any of the usual channels and platforms.
“I am confident that the survey can elicit real responses from residents. The manner in which the survey is being conducted – from the high calibre and integrity of the researchers, the support of the advisory board members, the framing of the questions, and the anonymity provided to all responders – ensures that residents feel safe in expressing their real views.”
Visit unrulynatures.com to learn more about the project.