Baboons "Raiding" Cape Town

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July 24, 2009—As Cape Town's suburbs consume baboon habitat, the cheeky monkeys have been raiding homes and garbage bins for food, prompting residents to fight back—some with guns, others with community education. Video.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

It would appear that baboons have overtaken the suburban-looking Cape Peninsula on the tip of South Africa. They open windows, refrigerators, garbage bins and raid for food.

But is it the humans who have overtaken the baboons habitat?

At the moment, these baboons are happily munching on pine nuts and berries in the bush on Cape Town's mountain.

The founder of Baboon Matters, an organization that has been the service provider for baboon management in the area, says this is a peaceful part of the neighborhood for these Chacma Baboons.

SOUNDBITE (English) Jeni Trethowan, Founder, Baboon Matters: "So everything about this particular village, you can see, this is a beautiful sleep sight area, the rocks right in between the houses. You can see the pine trees, which is also a sleep sight area and the pine cones, very high in nutrition. That's what they're eating now, you can hear them cracking the pine cones."

But the abundance of easily accessible human food is too great a temptation, and soon they will make their way down to a residential area. There, baboons are often shot by residents. SOUNDBITE (English) Jeni Trethowan, Founder, Baboon Matters: "They're very dull shots, so it's probably like a pellet gun or even paint ball guns that sometimes people are shooting at the Baboons with paintballs."

In the wild young males leave their troop to look for another family to join, with available females. This search often takes them into urban areas.

According to the Baboon Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, urban development takes up about 50% of natural baboon habitat, and essentially cuts baboon troops off from the mainland.

SOUNDBITE (English) Justin O'Riain, Behavioral Ecologist , University of Cape Town "Humans and baboons have very similar desires for space, and in the game of urban warfare, if you like, it is the humans that have won hands down. The problem is that once the humans have won, it's like a settling force. They establish their houses, they establish their gardens, and they establish a whole lot of attractive resources within it, and then it reverts to sort of guerilla warfare, where the baboons slowly and sneakily come back into the urban area, and raid, and it's very difficult to actually manage that."

The primary management approach on the Cape has been the employment of baboon monitors.

These men or women, who are trained and managed by Baboon Matters, spend their days walking with baboon troops to keep them out of urban areas.

But recently, money has run dry, and the baboon troops have been on their own for over a month, giving them free range. The village of Scarborough has been the hardest hit. Baboons have moved into town.

SOUNDBITE (English) Harold Kolnik, Resident of Scarborough: "And the status quo has changed now, they're actually living in the village all the time, and rearing their young now. So we have great worries, you know, that these little baby baboons will not ever know how to forage, they've only been taught how to raid."

Management strategies include use of baboon proof garbage bins, some electrical fencing, and education for residents and tourists.

But theres a greater problem for local authorities: no one wants to take responsibility for baboon management.

SOUNDBITE (English) Gregg Oelefse, City of Cape Town "There's a whole debate around, when they're in the national park, they're the park's responsibility, and when they cross the border, then the park no longer is responsible for them, and then is it the City or Cape Nature, and who's delegation, and who should be paying."

Many residents of the Cape see the primate as a pest.

But the founder of Baboon Matters says what many humans forget, is that baboons gave their lives for medical research.

SOUNDBITE (English) Jenni Trethowan, Founder Baboon Matters "And now where's the gratitude? People can have heart transplants, and liver transplants and kidney transplants, what do we owe back to the animals that we practiced on for so long?"

For now, funds have been made available for short-term status quo controlaimed at keeping baboons out of urban areas, but still on the peninsula. Long-term plans are hoped for next year.

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