South Africa is not like Britain where people sue for slipping on an unsigned wet patch at Tesco’s. It’s the Wild West here. There are deadly snakes, man eating sharks, high-jacking and even some of the plants are dangerous (Lucie had an unfortunate incident with a blister bush a few years ago). You have to keep your wits about you but the wildness is the very reason that we love it here.
There are fourteen troops of Chacma baboons on the Cape Peninsula that are just as much Capetonians as their human neighbours. However, this coexistence causes major conflict. Dispersing male baboons break free from the troops and invariably become habitual raiders dependant on finding food in dustbins and kitchens rather than foraging naturally on the mountain. Although fascinating to observe, baboons are wild animals with powerful jaws, sharp fangs and can be aggressive. House prices can be reduced by as much as ten percent if a property is frequented by baboons.
Baboons, as city-slickers, face frequent injuries caused by motor vehicles, bullet wounds, electrocutions and dog bites to name a few. The baboon population is now classified as critically endangered. To help baboons and humans coexist more harmoniously in Cape Town there are now baboon monitors in place who follow troops and chase them out of the urban areas.
Baboons are the first species that we will cover as part of our involvement with Back to Africa. Recently we spent the day with Hamish Currie, the director of Back to Africa and Bow Wow’s vet, trying to re-catch and re-collar Jimmy the baboon. Although Jimmy proved too elusive to be caught this time, we learnt a great deal about baboons and the problems faced through their urbanisation.
Jimmy is the head of the Waterfall troop of baboons that live near Simon’s Town, a coastal suburb of Cape Town. Jimmy’s troop have become totally integrated with the homeless people living at the Happy Valley shelter in Simon’s Town. His troop obtains the majority of their food by raiding at the shelter. Hamish has even seen baby baboons crawling over the residents of Happy Valley which causes him enormous concern; one squeak from their young and a protective baboon could become very dangerous.
Tragedy struck on the 28th of January 2010 when Michael Bates, a Happy Valley resident, was pushed from a ramp by Jimmy and killed. Sadly, Michael Bates was in the wrong place at the wrong time, blocking Jimmy’s only escape route. Jimmy was caught on the 2nd of March and fitted with a collar to record GPS information in order to allow researchers to monitor his movements. He was released on the 5th of March but has since managed to wriggle free of his collar. Having been caught once, Jimmy has wised up and is proving quite a challenge to catch.
Here Are Hamish’s Top 2 Ways to Catch a Baboon:
Due to their raiding, most baboons have been on the receiving end of rifles and air guns and so are gun shy. Even though we tried to conceal the dart gun, Jimmy and his troop spotted it almost immediately, making their escape and leaving us for dust. For this reason, it is best to aim when eye contact with the baboon is lost.
Not only do baboons recognise a gun but also individuals and vehicles. Jimmy’s troop knows Hamish’s Landy and so we attempted to outsmart them by using a different car. However, having already been darted a month before, Jimmy wasn’t going to forget Hamish in a hurry! I wonder if a disguise is in order, Hamish?
Chacma baboons occur in groups of up to eighty individuals. Dominant males can be aggressive and protective of juveniles or females that are being darted. It is extremely important to never corner a baboon as they will certainly attack. Once a baboon is darted you must not chase him, but as far as possible try and retain eye contact. Generally it takes around four minutes for immobilisation to occur and a baboon can move surprisingly far in this time. One of the greatest challenges is recovering a baboon after immobilisation.
The high crime rate in South Africa means that most properties are inaccessible with high walls, razor wire and electric fences. To make matters worse there are usually vicious dogs residing on properties. Invariably the escaping darted baboon has entered such a property which makes recovery extremely awkward. Contending with Rottweiler’s, dangling from roofs and cliffs, baboon darting has put Hamish in some pretty precarious situations. The presence of tourists and members of the public is another major obstacle when darting baboons. Obviously care must be taken not to dart onlookers! Also the public are often not aware of what is going on and may think that you are trying to harm the baboon. For this reason it is a good idea to work in a marked vehicle and wear identifying clothing. Maybe a disguise is not such a good idea after all…
2) Cage Capture
This is a highly effective way of capturing baboons… IF the baboons in question have never been caught in a trap before. The baboon is lured into the cage with food. A rope is attached to the door which is activated when the correct baboon enters the cage. Surprisingly, baboons are relaxed in a cage and seldom have to be sedated. However, as already mentioned, baboons learn quickly and become increasingly difficult to cage capture. Jimmy’s troop are unlikely to fall for that old chestnut again.
When the above have failed, the following are alternative options from The Vagabond Adventures.
3) Unlocked Car with Expensive Picnic Inside
This is not an official method of baboon capture, but from past experiences this would work. Of course, this method may not be cost effective as not only would the picnic be demolished, your car might be too. Be sure to vacate the vehicle first.
4) Watermelon & Plastic Snake
Another unofficial suggestion is to hollow out a watermelon, place a plastic snake inside and glue the watermelon halves back together. Wait for a dodgy baboon to steal the watermelon and take it up into a tree. There is nothing a baboon dislikes more than snakes and apparently they have been known to faint at the sight of them. Hold out a bed sheet with a friend under the tree and get ready to catch the swooning primate.