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MANY Capetonians, and residents of villages and towns further afield like Pringle Bay and Hermanus, have a love-hate relationship with our free-roaming troops of chacma baboons. Their management is the subject of heated debates and emotions run high on the subject.
And that, perhaps, is our biggest problem when it comes to baboon management – emotions. There is nothing wrong with being emotional about wild animals, but when it comes down to management issues, there is little space for emotions: science should be the determining factor.
And that’s why yesterday’s hard-hitting commentary by Professor Shirley C Strum, headlined “Activists and their anthropomorphism remain greatest threat to baboons” on our Insight page was an important intervention in the debate.
Prof Strum’s name may not be familiar to lay people, but in the wider world of African primatology, her work in Kenya is renowned, particularly in the field of human-baboon conflict and environmental ethics. Her 40 years of hands-on work in the control of primates that have become pests through learned behaviour, has been groundbreaking.
One particular study group on Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, a translocated group of crop raiders from the Great Rift Valley nicknamed the Pumphouse Gang, has been the subject of several serious television documentaries by, among others, National Geographic and Survival Anglia.
So when she makes statements like “The (Cape) baboons should have been aversively deterred from approaching and feeding on human food”, “it is a joke to have monitors walking behind clapping hands” and “the epitaph of these baboons will read ‘met an untimely end because activists could not face reality’”, we should all sit up and take notice.
Nobody wants to see the internationally famous Cape baboons disappear. The Baboon Conservation Authority, a joint venture between the city, CapeNature and SANParks, is advocating more aggressive deterrent methods, including the use of electric fences around vulnerable suburbs and villages.
The Authority is being advised by some of the best scientists around, and, as Professor Strum says, we may well have to be initially cruel to the baboons to be kind in the long run. We should not allow emotions to get in the way of solid conservation science.