Cape’s baboon spat rages on

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baboon juen 21 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Monitors create a line between baboons in Tokai Forest and the road. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

The city of Cape Town’s baboon management operations are set to be taken over, although it is still unclear who will foot the bill.

The contract with current monitors NCC is due to terminate at the end of June and while a tender has not yet been awarded, it is understood that Dr Phil Richardson’s Baboon Ranger Project will

step in.

However, the city is still negotiating with CapeNature and SA National Parks (SANParks) about how funding should be divided.

Currently, the city’s ratepayers pay the annual bill of R9 million – a set-up which has been described as “grossly unfair”.

“Equally, support needs to come from SANParks. Baboons migrate from the Table Mountain National Park to urban areas, so the management of the problem is theirs as well,” councillor Felicity Purchase said.

Although details of the mediation process are not known, there is an indication, says Purchase, CapeNature and SANParks have until now been reluctant to accept responsibility for funding.

“For us, the process is about sharing the costs; for them, it’s about dodging extra expenses. You can’t call that mediation. The city wants the matter to be concluded sooner rather than later. This process has been ongoing since the end of last year,” Purchase said. “If a cost-splitting agreement cannot be reached, the city will take the matter to court. We will have no choice but to seek a declaratory order (which will force SANParks and CapeNature to make a financial commitment).”

Gavin Bell of Table Mountain National Park has denied that SANParks has any responsibility to contribute financially to the monitoring initiative. “It has always been a city-run initiative. The monitors don’t operate on SANParks land, they were put in place by the city to protect residents,” he said.

City veterinarian Elzette Jordan confirmed the new contract should start on August 1. “In the interim, I want to assure residents that a temporary arrangement will ensure that the basic functions of the monitoring progamme will still be fulfilled.”

Jordan said that a heavier emphasis on “tools” (which include bear bangers and paintball guns) and “other technologies” (such as electric fences, sensors and tracking collars) could make the monitors more effective and drive down the costs.

The Baboon Monitoring Programme came into focus this week after CapeNature announced that two dominant males in the Smitswinkel Troop, Merlin and Force, would be put down. The Smitswinkel Troop is notorious for raiding cars, restaurants, camp sites and urban areas for food. Merlin and Force have lost all fear of people and their case histories attest to the fact that they are “problem animals”, said Jordan.

Apart from drawing criticism from the public and some sectors of the baboon research community, the decision to cull the baboons has brought the efficacy of the monitoring programme into focus.

The programme was designed to discourage baboon human contact on the Peninsula. It has claimed some successes in deterring baboons from urban areas (such as Simon’s Town) and educating motorists and tourists about the raiding habits of baboons in the area.

Yet the programme has failed to spot-fine people who feed the baboons. More importantly, it has failed to stop baboons from climbing into parked cars around Millers Point, not to mention the more bold exploits of dominant males such as Merlin and Force.

While experts agree that less human-baboon contact is good for all involved, there is fierce debate around how to achieve this.

Jenni Trethowan of the Baboon Matters Trust, who has worked with baboons around the Cape for over 20 years, was critical of the city’s decision to cull problem animals, arguing that it was inappropriate human behaviour which needed to be managed.

“Baboons, by their very nature, are unmanageable. This means that managing people and monitoring staff on the ground is our only hope,” she says. “Using paintball guns to scare baboons off is not a sustainable solution.”

However, Justin Oriain, a researcher at UCT’s Baboon Research Unit says human behaviour is equally unmanageable. He was critical of activists who opposed the euthanasia of problem animals.

“They always make a big noise and try to vilify us, but in the end they don’t have solutions to offer,” he said. “Monitors need to deter baboons from urban areas, with paintball guns and bear bangers if need be.”

Oriain added, however, that experience and research has shown monitors were not a solution to the problem.

“The only thing that will keep baboons out of urban areas are electrified, baboon-proof fences. A pilot fence has been put up in the Scarborough area and more will follow,” he said. - Cape Argus

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