Nature on our doorstep- A day out at Cape Point

Following my post last week about the birth of a Mountain Zebra in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, at Cape Point, we decided to take a family day out and see if we could find it. Despite knowing the general area that the herd was located we had no luck, however, it was a wildlife feast.

A baboon encounter well before arriving at Cape Point

Baby baboon crossing the road south of Millers PointAfter a recent trip to Durban my daughter (who is two and a half) is mad about monkeys and so she was delighted that a troop was taking life easy on the road to Cape Point, just after Millers Point, [approximately 5km south of Boulders Beach].

Baboons are technically not monkeys, and nor are they apes; to my daughter they are hilarious. The baboons on the Cape Point Peninsula are actually called Chacma baboons. There are several troops between Table Mountain and Cape Point, with most of them monitored continually by baboon monitors. When driving along the Cape Point Peninsula be aware of the monitors as part of their job is to ensure the baboons cross roads safely. They are also a great way of knowing that baboons are in the area.

Now, baboons are getting a bad reputation of late, with many photos and videos of them behaving badly, particularly around cars. However, I have to say that this extended troop were about as interested in us as they were in nuclear physics (having said that, who knows what advanced mathematics they are contemplating while they pick succulent shoots out of the ground). There is an ongoing debate in the Cape Point Peninsula area regarding having baboons as neighbours with some people advocating removing them. Apart from the potentially devastating effect this could have on the fynbos what a terrible loss they would be from this area of such natural beauty. We could have watched them all day. The problem isn’t the baboons but the ignorance and arrogance of the people who are around them.

Two baboons having a rough and tumbleThey left us well alone, actually ignored us. We were respectful of them being wild animals and did nothing to try and interact with them, staying at a good distance and not displaying anything that would suggest we had food. I wonder how many incidents of ‘baboon terrorism’ are as a result of tourists trying to get better photographs by baiting the animals with food?

Despite being royally entertained by particularly the juveniles we had other places to go and so left the baboons to their foraging and went on to Cape Point.

 

Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Cape Point

 

I have to say that we didn’t pick the best day of the month for our trip. After seemingly endless warm sunny days with little or no wind, we managed to go with a howling southeaster blowing of the ocean. At times it was difficult to open and close the car door- in certain exposed areas it was difficult to stand up, and there was a constant dampness in the air, probably as a result of the spray from the sea.

We first headed off towards the west coast as we have seen zebras in that area before- not today. Whilst our primary targets were not to be seen we were rewarded with a herd of bontebok, sheltering in a rocky koppe. (Sorry, the photos were not very good, they were a long way away and I was having difficulty holding the camera steady in the high winds.)

Bontebok are easy to identify, though like many other distinctive African animals, are deceptively difficult to spot in the bush. They have long white faces, which are very square at the mouth, and have white rears. Occurring in herds of up to 25 individuals they tend to feed mainly on grass.

Ostriches and Dassies

 

Then it was of to the Cape of Good Hope, which is to the north west of Cape Point. We have also seen zebra in this area before, and we knew that there would be ostrich there.

Female Ostrich at Cape PointI have a suspicion that the ostrich at the Cape of Good Hope are actually nailed to the floor, or at least tethered because they are always there. They are also so used to people that they just ignore you, though, with all wild animals you should never get too close. These are massive animals with very powerful legs; a kick from an ostrich could very easily kill you, certainly break bones.

The two we saw were both females, which are a drab brown in colour, unlike males which are the more commonly conception of what an ostrich looks like. When you look at ostriches it is easy to imagine that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

 

And from the biggest bird in the world to the smallest elephant…

 

Close up of a Dassie at Cape of Good HopeWell, not quite, but apparently possibly so. The Cape of Good Hope is my favorite place for seeing Dassies [rock hyrax]- an odd little rodent type fur-ball that live in rocky, mountainous parts of the Cape Point Peninsula (and beyond). They are so used to people that you would be hard pressed to get one to move for you. Again, they are wild animals, so shouldn’t be touched (they have massive teeth that I could imagine removing a huge chunk of finger- being ambivalent is one thing, being manhandled is something else).

Dassie scratchingIt would need some pathological condition not to find Dassies ‘cute’. Looking like large guinea pigs they are actually not rodents. Genetically they are a relative of the elephant! It sounds strange, and it could be my imagination, but if you look at the nose shape, it looks a lot like the end of an elephant’s trunk.

My daughter was in fluffy heaven and I got some great photos.

In need of amenities we headed to the Cape Point parking area. While there we saw the negative side of baboon behavior. A young adult male was wandering through the main parking lot trying to steal food of unsuspecting tourists. He was obviously used to success, though it seems that today he came up short and we saw him sat on a rock later on, away from the main area. Showing no fear of humans, I could easily see him turning nasty. The sad thing is that the tourists that create this problem probably don’t see anything wrong in what they are doing. When confronted in this way, do not try and fight the baboon, get children away from the animal and remember that you are three times his size- despite him having the huge teeth. Showing fear will make you an easy target, but confrontation may cause the baboon to fight its corner. Stay calm, don’t fight over a candy bar and back away.

Surprisingly the lower part of the Cape Point Peninsula was sheltered from the wind, although we did not climb to the top. It really does feel like the end of the world; and, although it is not the southern tip of Africa it is much more dramatic than Cape Agulhas. Despite now being a tourist Mecca with a tarred road all the way to the end, it is still an awe inspiring place, especially on days when the southeaster is blowing hard and waves are crashing over rocks. Imagine trying to sail a square rigger around the cape in a storm? I have done it a few times in a luxury cruise liner that tramped across the north Atlantic in the middle of December, and nothing put the crew on full alert like a trip around the Cape Point.

We were asked a ranger where the zebra were and he pointed us back to Olifantsbos and whilst we did go back for another look it was likely that they were in a part of the park that is closed to visitors.

Whilst we didn’t see what we set off to see, we did see plenty and we left feeling very privelaged to have such amazing natural beauty of Cape Point so close to where we live.

Support your local, natural beauty and visit Cape Point

– locals can get a wild card that is very resonably priced compared to the regular entry price of Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

7 thoughts on “Nature on our doorstep- A day out at Cape Point

  1. Rob says:

    Hi Russel –

    I thought the foal had been born to the herd at UCT, which you can see from hospital Bend. Was it in the Cape Point Nature reserve?

    Best regards
    Rob

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      Hi Rob

      The reports said the Cape Of Good Hope Nature Reserve at Cape Point and when we went to have a look the ranger we asked didn’t correct us (though that is no guarentee). I haven’t yet had confirmation from TMNP. The herd at Cape Point usually hang out in the private area in the north west corner of the park but had been reported as near the main road in the reserve.

      Many thanks for taking the time to comment
      Russell

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks Russel –

    That’s great news. We live over the road from the reserve and I’ve seen them near the fence close to the Good Hope Nursery at times, so will definitely look out for the new arrival.

    Thanks again for the newsletter. The new look is great!

    Cheers
    Rob

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      Pleasure Rob, thanks for the support. I’m jealous about where you live now, what a great location and view you have. If you happen to get a photo of the zebras can you send it to me at russell@capepointchronicle.co.za as I would love to put it with the article.
      Many thanks
      Russell

  3. Rob says:

    Hi Russel –

    No problem – will do. Hold thumbs!

    Cheers
    Rob

  4. I am just back from Cape Town and I could relate to this article perfectly. I saw the ostrich, baboons, dassies and more…

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      Hi Manjulika

      Glad you had a good time and got to see some stuff. I see from your web site that you got around the country quite a bit.

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