Eight Scarborough residents using paintball guns under permit from CapeNature were among a group of 35 who battled for hours to drive two baboon troops out of their village on Easter Monday.
The operation follows last year’s unannounced decision by the nature conservation authority to approve the use of paintball guns, which can inflict very painful bruising, as part of baboon management on the Peninsula.
The Scarborough operation created a heated online debate, with the authorities coming in for angry criticism from some animal lovers and conservationists.
But the controversial use of paintball guns is backed by the NSPCA and strongly approved by some residents of urban areas targeted by raiding baboon troops.
And CapeNature says the decision was made by the authorities’ collective – itself, the City of Cape Town and SA National Parks, known as the Baboon Conservation Authorities (BCA) – on an experimental basis with the results to be assessed.
It stressed that the use of paintball guns without a permit by members of the public was illegal.
“If there is any indication that this method of control is abused by individuals who are not part of the formal management intervention, the use of this method will be terminated with immediate effect,” it said in response to questions by the Cape Argus.
Dr Graham Noble, an executive member of the Scarborough Residents’ Association who was the main organiser of Monday’s operation, said yesterday that they’d had mixed success.
“We succeeded in the sense of getting the main troop (of about 14 animals) entirely out of the village. But for the first two-and-a-half hours the baboons made absolute idiots of us – we were running around like headless chickens,” he confessed.
“But then we got better organised and discovered the method to use, so we’re very pleased.”
He conceded that by 8pm some of the animals had moved back into the village and were on a resident’s roof – “But we knew that would happen.”
Noble emphasised that as well as wanting to protect people’s property from the baboons, they were equally motivated by wanting to protect the baboons from harm.
“The (city-contracted) monitors have for months been absolutely powerless to get the baboons out once they’re in the village, and we wanted to find, and show, a method to get them out and keep them out,” he explained.
“We’re powerless to protect the baboons once they get into an urban area. They are shot at, have accidents and are subjected to all sorts of dreadful things – I’m sure you’ve seen some of the pictures. This is the only way we can think of to ultimately protect them, and also to protect personal property.”
Noble said that provincial conservation authority CapeNature had, “originally reluctantly”, at the request of the residents’ association last week, issued a permit for 12 people to use paintball guns in Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, valid for six months.
Earlier, the authority had also issued permits for two members of the city’s baboon management service provider to use paintball guns against the troop that raids in Constantia.
Eight of the 12 had taken part in Monday’s operation after undergoing special training and obtaining a certificate in proficiency and safety from the Sport Paintballers’ Association.
They’d been obliged to adhere to a standard operating procedure protocol approved by CapeNature’s Wildlife Advisory Committee, and this had included not shooting anywhere near infant baboons or where the background was obscured.
“They were shooting mainly to get the baboons off roofs, so there had to be sure shots fired from quite close by, in the (animal’s) back, and they complied pretty well with that.”
In a general e-mail sent out yesterday, Noble said: “We need to get better organised, improve communication... as well as work out how to keep the baboons out more effectively once they are out, and we are ready to go again. The tentative date for the next drive is Saturday, May 5. All welcome.”
Baboon conservationist Jenni Trethowan, who was not present on Monday but whose Baboon Matters Trust firmly opposes the use of paintball guns and other “aggressive” control methods, said from reports made to her it appeared that the Scarborough had met with mixed success – “not much success for the humans, but an interesting day for the baboons”.
Trethowan was critical of CapeNature for approving the operation, asking: “Since when did laws and by-laws get changed overnight to accommodate an ill-thought-out hunt?” and of the NSPCA for approving the use of paintball guns but not monitoring their use on the day – “(That’s) unacceptable”.
The head of the NSPCA’s wildlife unit, Brenda Santon, said they’d been asked by the conservation authorities to review their baboon management protocol.
“Unless there’s a proper management plan, the conflict will continue and the cruelty will continue,” she said.
“I want to make it very clear: the NSPCA does not endorse the brutal and uncontrolled use of paintball guns where they’re used solely to cause pain and suffering. But if they are managed by properly trained and compassionate people, they could serve as a tool.”
The artful raiders of Cape:
They climb through windows, open refrigerators, bins and raid for anything to eat.
They infuriate residents by ripping up their gardens, invading their homes, and attacking their pets.
They’re able to open the doors of parked cars and are quite adept at snatching food from unsuspecting tourists.
Several years ago two baboons crashed through the roof of a Constantia home, leaving two children and their child minder traumatised.
A visiting American professor and world expert on primates Shirley Strum recently said Cape Town’s raiding baboons were worse than others of their kind anywhere in the world.
A recent count put the number at 475, with 307 in the south, and 168 “and counting” in four troops in the Tokai-Constantia area.
During the last century, the “quick and easy” solution was applied and dispersing males and raiding individuals were simply shot. Sometimes whole troops were destroyed.
It was in response to the authorities’ decision to eliminate the entire troop at Kommetjie that the Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group was established in 1991 and when the push for baboon conservation by NGOs and individuals first took hold.
Primatologists Ruth Kansky and Dave Gaynor had the first contract to manage baboons when five monitors or “baboon chasers” were employed in the late 1990s to try to keep the animals out of Kommetjie, Scarborough and Da Gama Park.
In April 2002, the contract was awarded to Jenni Trethowan’s Baboon Matters Trust, which also employed half a dozen monitors.
In 2007/8, additional funding was obtained from the government’s poverty relief programme and troops in Tokai, Scarborough, Slangkop and Da Gama Park were monitored.