Walking with Baboons

Mother Baboon with child
Mother and child

I can’t claim that I did this recently but I did find the photos on my hard drive. With all the tension that is being seen between the two primate groups on the Cape I thought I would write a little piece on my afternoon with the baboons.

For the sake of not misleading my readers, I have to say that I am pro the baboons, so don’t think for a second that this piece is going to be a balanced journalistic account.

We are fortunate enough to live in one of this planets most beautiful and diverse natural environments. It remains so even though we have done our best to build our houses on every possible spot. When it comes to saving our environment I am a realist: I don’t for a second believe that we can preserve nature in its purity, unless that is we are willing to return to a hunter gatherer existence, in total harmony with our surroundings, like every other creature in nature. It just isn’t going to happen, the genie is out of the bottle and we can’t put it back. That is not to say that we should treat the world like our own possession- which brings me neatly to the baboon debate. Why are sections of our community so hell bent on eradicating these friendly, docile creatures?

Sleepy Baboon
This little fella was so chilled out that he kept falling of his rock

It can only be through fear and ignorance; a complete lack of understanding of the things that we interact with coupled with a stubbornness to accept that our perceptions may be very different from the reality.

A few years ago, not long after moving to the area my Partner and I were intrigued to read about the Baboon Matters organization, who were offering to take people out to ‘walk with the baboons.’ We phoned Jenni and booked an afternoon trip out to see one of the local troops.

On arrival we were taken from the Baboon Matters shop in Glencairn out to Ocean View to make contact with a troop. Now, I have been fortunate to go on safari, and have been closer to dangerous wild animals than I would care to be, so I was expecting to have to stand a hundred meters away and look at the animals through a pair of binoculars, or sit in the van and watch through the windows. To my surprise we barreled out of the van, walked into the bush and made our way towards the baboons who were all sunning themselves on some rocks. Not only did we walk up to the troop, but we walked right into the middle of them, our only instructions were ‘don’t touch,’- which seems sensible when dealing with wild animals.

Well, maybe we understood those instructions, however, nobody told the baboons, because within minutes of walking into the troop we were bombarded with friendly requests to play, groom and even to mate! The amazing thing was that there were a number of babies and an alpha male, which should have been a recipe for disaster: they just didn’t see us as a threat, accepting us as a bigger version of themselves, possibly even as being part of their troop. The babies cavorted around us, the adults groomed themselves, literally on our feet and the males playfully tested each other. We were getting a snap shot of what life was like in a baboon Troop. They weren’t aggressive towards us; they weren’t alarmed by our presence in any way.

Very young baboonYes, baboons can be aggressive and destructive, especially in their pursuit of food. The simple truth is that we have so encroached on their natural habitat that they are now seeing our residential areas as their territories, and our food (and often waste) as easy and rich pickings.

Once when we were spending a holiday in Simons Town, at a holiday flat in Froggies Pond, (before we moved here permanently) a big male baboon made its way into our flat and started stealing bananas of the table. I don’t know who was more surprised, or scared when we saw him, but after much shooing he was encouraged to move back outside (although he insisted on taking the bananas, and a loaf of raisin bread that he snatched on his way out, with him) where he sat in a tree and complained about the injustice of being sent packing by a blanket and a chair (lion taming style). Whilst there was a showing of teeth I have to believe that we were never going to get to feel them unless we got too close or too aggressive. Lets understand this about us and the baboons, we are much larger than they are, and as far as baboons are concerned size matters!

This brings us to the on going debate. The anti squad is trying to push the argument that the baboons pose a real threat to us, especially young children. Well, that may be the case, but the threat posed by a baboon is nothing next to letting your children play with wolves, or risking their lives on the school run. Is it not a little bit of an over reaction to eradicate an entire species because of a threat that they may, or may not pose. Surely it is more responsible to manage the situation?

I have been in Glencairn when the baboons move into the area, and no-one who is resident in that area when they arrive can claim that they don’t know about it. The whole neighborhood explodes in a cacophony of barking, so then you know to close your doors, grab your kids and hide in the concrete bunkers.

As for baboons breaking into houses and bins, are we that dumb that we can be outsmarted by a baboon? We take measures to secure our houses against people get in but we cannot stop a simple baboon? Surely the same measures work. If you leave windows and doors open you could have far worse things than baboons in your house.

For more information about walking with the baboons visit www.baboonmatters.org.za

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