Baboons: Practical tips for living in harmony with our simian neighbors- part 2

Very young baboonAs promised, this time I will look at things that you can do outside the home to reduce the likelihood of a Baboon troop wrecking your garden.

First of all you need to realize why the baboons are visiting your garden. They are primarily looking for food, and it is a good time to raise an often over looked issue here: the food source may not be in your property, it may be in one of the neighbouring yards. The baboons may just be using your property to get at the food, which is no consolation if they happen to destroy your garden just passing through. For an effective campaign to minimize the appearance of baboons on your property you must do it in conjunction with your neighbours: the more of the neighbourhood that participates, the more effective the effort will be.

The easiest and least costly way to keep baboons away from your property is to make it unattractive for them to visit. They are fighting a lot of natural instincts to enter your abode. It smells funny, looks strange and is fraught with danger. You can build the largest fence possible and put an electric wire all around the top, if you then put a big pile of bananas in the middle of your lawn the baboons will find a way to get to them, prompting you to make a bigger defensive barrier, effectively starting an ‘arms race’ you are likely to lose.

By far the easiest way to ensure that baboons find your garden of no interest is to plant an indigenous garden. This sounds counter intuitive, why fill your garden with the baboons’ natural food if you want to discourage them?

Don’t forget, the baboons are fighting their natural instincts in order to come onto your property. If they can get what is on offer in your garden elsewhere, where it is easier and safer to get then that is what they will do.

Indigenous gardens have other advantages too. They are much more water-wise, are a haven for bird species and are perfect for our weather patterns.

Of course, not everyone wants an indigenous garden, and there are other things beside flowers and seeds that can bring baboons into your yard. There is an increasing trend for people to have a small vegetable patch in their gardens. Unfortunately this is like a welcome mat to the baboons. If you want a vegetable garden and live in a baboon area then there is no option but to fence it in as best as you can. This does not mean that you have to turn the whole garden into a fortress, just the area where the veggies or fruit are growing. How you do this will depend on the size of the patch; a small area can be framed in, probably using a wooden frame and chicken wire. If your patch is a sizable proportion of the garden then you will have to consider fortifying the whole garden against invasion.

When fortifying the perimeter the same considerations need to be made as when we discussed protecting your house. The golden rule is that if you can stop a human getting in then you are a good way towards stopping a baboon from getting in. Don’t think in terms of deterring someone from getting in though- a metal fence topped with spikes will deter a person, but won’t stop them if they are determined. The main difference between preventing a human from getting onto the property and stopping a baboon is that the human will look at a fence and see that there is a danger of harming themselves by attempting to scale it; a baboon will have to hurt itself before it can see that. Barbed wire, spikes, broken glass and in some instances electric fences will all cause injury to the baboon before they realize that it is a bad thing to try. And if the reward for the baboon is juicy enough they may even keep trying.

Again you can look to nature for a solution. I know from experience that South Africa is blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to spiky plants; some of them have evolved to deter animals with very thick hides. An adult baboon is likely to have an intimate knowledge of thorny plants and is likely to associate them with painful experiences, thus giving them a wide berth. By working with nature instead of against it you will save a fortune, get a barrier that is going to be as effective as any man-made alternative and stand a good chance of keeping human invaders out as well (you would have to be a special kind of idiot to try and climb through a camel thorn bush!)

You can put the Great Wall of China around your property but it will be useless as a deterrent if you leave tree branches overhanging it. Make sure that all overhanging boughs are cut back, or, if the tree is on your property that there is no way for baboons to get onto the far end of it outside your boundary (again, you cannot keep the baboons out effectively if you are working on your own- this needs to be a community effort.)

Bins are another problem in baboon areas. I myself have watched the Simon’s Town troop decimate the bins at the naval yard on Runcimen Drive- it wasn’t a pretty sight. There are a number of devices on the market which claim to ‘baboon proof” your bin and maybe if you have market tested any you can comment on them below. The problem is that some of them will work and some won’t. Also baboons are clever and dexterous; given enough time and incentive they will work out how to get into the bin. When the bin is in your own yard you can of course make it impossible to get into. Baboons are resourceful but they haven’t worked out how to pick locks yet. The vulnerable time is rubbish day, which is when the baboons are likely to visit the bins. This is again where collaboration and team work can come into it. Do you or one of your neighbours work from home? Is there a maid or gardener in the surrounding houses? If so you can coordinate that the rubbish only goes out onto the road as the bin men arrive, which is much more likely to result in a baboon free refuse day. Also, the cooperation of the council could be sought to ensure a regular time for collection.

Pets can be another source of attraction for baboons. Although a baboon may think twice about coming onto a property patrolled by a large dog; a large, male adult baboon may give any domestic dog a good fight, and the result may be very bad for both animals. Again, it is down to what incentive the baboon has to enter your property and whether the rewards outweigh the risks. The reason that pets may attract baboons is their food and water. Dog food left outside, a water bowl, rabbit food, pet treats and even chicken feed are all tasty tit bits to supplement your diet with if you are a baboon. Again, it may be a neighbours pet that is causing the infraction which is why your efforts need to be community wide.

We have all chosen to live in a very beautiful part of the world which is rich in nature’s bounty. Such privilege comes with responsibility. Eradicating baboons from the area could have untold effects on the surround countryside. With a little bit of planning and thought there is no reason that we cannot coexist with the baboons, reducing the negative impact that they can have, allowing us to further enjoy living in such close proximity to real wildlife. I am sympathetic to anyone who is the victim of baboon mischief but removing the baboons is not the answer when it would be far easier, and more beneficial to just manage the situation better.

That management does not mean leaving it to organizations such as Baboon Matters and Table Mountain National Parks, although they must form part of the solution. The true answer lies with the residents who come into contact with these wild animals on a regular basis. We need to preserve what remains for future generations because it doesn’t seem right that we should leave them a planet bereft of diversity.

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