Talks explore future of baboon management

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy convened a round table meeting between SANParks, Cape Nature and the City of Cape Town to discuss the future of baboon management on the Cape Peninsula.

National, provincial and local environmental authorities – SANParks, Cape Nature and the City – met this week to find a new way to manage 10 troops of some 600 chacma baboons on the Cape Peninsula.

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy directed the talks, which were held at the Old Mutual Conference Centre at Kirstenbosch, on Tuesday.

They followed the City’s decision to abandon its controversial urban baboon management programme when the contract with the management company, NCC Environmental Services, comes to an end in June next year.

The programme costs the City about R10 million to R14m a year, as stated in the City’ recent budget, and it “hasn’t worked”, according to an elected representative who said, “Baboon management is not the mandate of the City.“

Ms Creecy said baboons were drawn to urban areas – where they came into conflict with humans – in their search for food.

“They need re-wilding, a process to get them out of the urban area,” she said.

“The challenge of baboons in the Cape metropole is complex and requires co-operation among stakeholders, not finger-pointing. The purpose of the round table is to attempt to reintegrate a range of stakeholders who have been alienated by current baboon-management practices.“

Responsibility for managing baboons on the urban edges of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) has long been disputed by the statutory environmental authorities. At the heart of the dispute is responsibility for baboons that leave the park and move into residential areas.

SANParks has always said that animals leaving the unfenced national park become the responsibility of a provincial entity or of the landowner whose land they traverse.

In 2018, CapeNature hit the headlines after issuing Constantia Valley wine farms with hunting permits to kill up to two baboons a day (“Permission to hunt baboons,” Bulletin July 4, 2018).

During the talks on Tuesday, civic groups and animal-rights organisations gave their input on a range of baboon-related issues, including waste management, fencing, paintball guns used as control measures, damage to property, the need for more monitors, and baboons being injured or killed by cars and humans.

The latest baboon death was an agonising, slow one for a juvenile female that was shot with a pellet gun, in Constantia’s Monterey Drive, on Friday May 20, according to Cape of Good Hope SPCA chief inspector Jaco Pieterse.

The SPCA had laid criminal charges against a resident and the matter was under investigation, he said.

Ideas put forward included continuing the urban baboon-management programme, creating corridors between urban areas and the lower mountain slopes and building fences that would also protect caracal and porcupines while keeping dogs and cats out of foraging areas.

Scientists Professor Justin O’Riain and Esme Beamish, both from UCT’s Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), gave presentations on baboon numbers, sex ratios, history, range, genetics and habitat.

Professor O’Riain said the meeting was the first step to reform the Baboon Technical Team, which included CapeNature; the City of Cape Town; the Cape of Good Hope SPCA; the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries; Human Wildlife Services; NCC Environmental Services; and Baboon Matters, among others. Professor O’Riain said it had had good results until the City had taken SANParks and CapeNature to court to get them to share the cost of managing baboons.

Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews said a contract for new baboon-proof bins had gone out to tender. He also said the City would have a plan B for the management of the Plateau Road and the Constantia Nek troops as they were without baboon monitors at present.

Ms Creecy agreed to form a baboon task team that will clarify a memorandum of agreement between the three entities and clarify their roles and responsibilities in the management of baboons. That would be done before the baboon-management programme ended in June 2023, she said.

Professor Justin O’Riain with a diagram showing the baboon fence at Zwaaswyk.
The meeting was attended by about 70 people from interested and affected stakeholders, including the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, NCC Environmental Services, SANParks, Cape Nature and the City of Cape Town.