Baboon’s body ‘riddled with pellets’

By Time of article published Jun 1, 2011

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Environment & Science Writer

FRED, the well-known baboon from the Smitswinkel Bay troop that was put down two months ago because of his aggressive raiding of cars, was carrying at least 14 airgun pellets and 70 pieces of birdshot in his body when he died.

This is apparent from x-rays of his body that were taken during an autopsy done this week by state vet Dr Tertius Gouws.

“This is quite horrendous,” says Constantia vet Dr Hamish Currie, the wildlife specialist who has helped with the management of the Peninsula’s baboons for many years and who took the x-rays for the autopsy.

“This is a very sad story and it just goes to show what his life must have been like. It’s clear that he was peppered with a shotgun and a pellet gun on several occasions and most were in his rear, which suggests that he was actually retreating when he was shot.

“To me, this emphasises the fact that people don’t achieve anything by doing things like this.”

The decision to euthanase Fred was taken by the Baboon Operational Team, which consists of representatives of the three authorities charged with managing baboons on the Peninsula – CapeNature, Table Mountain National Park and City of Cape Town – in terms of its “Raiding Baboon Protocol”.

The protocol is contested by some baboon conservationists and animal lovers, who held a wake to celebrate the dead animal’s life and mourn his death.

Currie agreed that the decision to put down Fred had been “a very sensitive subject in the eyes of the public” and that it had caused “a huge amount of discontent”.

“But this had become an animal welfare issue, and it couldn’t go on like it was,” he said.

“Fred was a very aggressive baboon and it’s not surprising. From my perspective as a vet, those x-rays tell a story and have some relevance in the debate about whether animals in this situation can continue to exist.”

Associate professor Justin O’Riain, who heads UCT’s Baboon Research Unit and who was also at the autopsy, said the discovery of all the shot and pellets in Fed’s body – including several in his head and neck which suggested an intent to kill – had been “quite a shock” and “a very sad testimony to years of conflict… ”.

However, O’Riain said all of the shot wounds had fully healed and he suspected they’d been inflicted more than two years ago when Fred’s troop – of which he was sometimes the alpha male – had spent more than 50 percent of its time raiding within the Simon’s Town urban area.

He did not believe Fred’s aggressive behaviour was the result of being shot, O’Riain added.

Although the baboon would have learned to avoid individual properties and people with guns, he would still have been attracted to houses where he could find food.

“But the problem is that some people are shooting the baboons and some people are feeding them, so they are getting mixed messages,” O’Riain said.

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