PHOTO ESSAY

Deep South Vibes: Kataza’s ‘homecoming’ – Can we all get along?

By Alan Van Gysen 24 November 2020

Kataza leans against a down pipe before entering an unsuspecting residents home whose door was open on the unusually hot day. ALL PHOTOS BY ALAN VAN GYSEN

The chacma baboon troop was relocated in the Deep South of Cape Town to Slangkop mountain above Kommetjie earlier this year. Since then, news headlines and social media feeds have been awash with increasingly polarising opinions for and against baboons living on the fringe of and within the urban space.

On top of this, SK11, otherwise known as Kataza, was removed and relocated to Tokai by the City of Cape Town, only to be returned to Kommetjie last week following court action. How has Kataza’s return gone? What has he been up to? Is he mingling with the rest of the troop? How is he fitting back in the Deep South… Can we all get along?

All photos by ALAN VAN GYSEN.

The chacma troop hangs out on the Slangkop mountain above Kommetjie.
A nursing mother chacma baboon forages through unsecured trash behind Kommetjie’s central commercial area. With easy access to human waste, Kommetjie’s Slangkop troop is increasingly sleeping and foraging above and among the businesses in the residential, seaside village.
Members of Kommetjie’s Slangkop baboon troop head into the central commercial and business area of the village to forage.
A juvenile chacma baboon chews sleepily on a light outside the Kommetjie Surf Shop as he winds down for another night on the roof of the central business area in Kommetjie. Damage to lights, wiring, alarms and anti-pigeon spikes has become of greater concern by both residents and shop owners of late.
A young chacma male baboon from Kommetjie’s Slangkop troop stops traffic to head across the road to Fishermans Pub and restaurant in search of food before finding a place to sleep on the establishment’s roof for the night. In-village sleep sites are becoming increasingly common.
Juvenile chacma baboons play-fight outside Kommetjie’s ‘Kom Surf’ shop before settling down for a night on the roof, an increasingly popular sleep site for the Slangkop troop.
A mother chacma baboon grooms her dead baby after it was killed by a male baboon from her troop days before this photograph was taken. Mother baboons will carry their dead babies for days – sometimes as long as 10 days. Researchers believe it’s either ‘grief management’, suggesting that mothers carry the dead infant as a way of dealing emotionally with their loss, or because of their intense social bonds.
The alpha male of the Slangkop baboon troop, Machanda, affectionately known as George, sits atop a home in Kommetjie, his upper lip torn in a fight with another dominant male. It is expected that Machanda and the newly returned, fellow troop member Kataza will eventually fight for dominance or create a splinter troop.
The newly appointed NCC baboon management group monitors the boundary between the natural and urban space on the edge where Kommetjie and the Slangkop mountain meet. Monitors have come under severe threat and intimidation by residents on both sides of the polarising topic of baboons in the urban space to the point that they cannot perform their duties as set out by the City of Cape Town.
Enter SK11, aka Kataza, as he strolls through Kommetjie a day after his now-famous return to his native troop after the City of Cape Town capitulated to the demands of animal activist Ryno Engelbrecht and agreed, in an out-of-court settlement, to return the much-loved chacma baboon to this home range on Slangkop, in Kommetjie.
Kataza rests in the shade of a tree, grooming himself, in Kommetjie for the first week of his returned release, while his native troop remains down the road on the mountain above Ocean View. The Slangkop troop has been moving between Ocean View and Kommetjie since NCC baboon management took over in October.
A Kommetjie resident’s glass door after Kataza raided his home, breaking the glass upon exit. ‘I was sitting on my couch with the door open when suddenly a large, male baboon walked past me and jumped up on to the counter to eat our fruit. I coaxed him off the counter – which he did slowly at first, before taking off and banging the door with his hand as he exited… There was no monitor around, and we’ve been told not to mention that it is Kataza by the pro-baboon folk. Who’s going to pay for this?’
Kataza forages through a resident’s herbs while being photographed by Gerda Rennick, who says: ‘Our chacma baboons in Kommetjie are highly sentient beings. I love to have them around and treat them with respect like I would treat a fellow human being. My wish is that all Kommetjie residents will share my passion for these primates, and hopefully in the future we can all live harmoniously with the baboons.’
Kataza raids a municipal bin while residents watch on unsure what to do while pro-baboon activists in the street prevent the monitors from intervening. Residents have applied to the city for baboon-proof bins but have been told there aren’t any available.
Kataza and an NCC monitor walk through Kommetjie en route to his sleep site in the commercial centre.
Kataza enters the local restaurant and pub ‘Fishermans’.
Kataza in Kommetjie’s commercial centre. ‘Baboons belong in the wild; that’s their natural habitat. Allowing baboons to frequent the urban zone is an act of cruelty and exposes them to many dangers. They have lost their healthy fear of and aversion to humans through overhabituation. There should be no such thing as an urban baboon.’ – Conservationist animal lover, and concerned resident who preferred to remain anonymous.
Kataza atop the roofs of Kommetjie’s commercial centre, where he sleeps at night at present. ‘Wildlife in Cape Town regularly finds itself in conflict with humans due to the blurred lines between the suburbs and natural space. Baboons are the most recognised of human-wildlife conflict species due to their higher level of intelligence and ability to maximise rewards from living in suburbia.’ – Brett Glasby, independent wildlife specialist.
SK11 – Kataza. A wild animal in the urban space.
Kataza photographed on the roof in the centre of Kommetjie. ‘Kataza quickly captured people’s attention as he was removed from his troop and relocated by the authorities. This situation created a great amount of tension between the general public and the authorities tasked with reducing conflict between humans and baboons.’ – Brett Glasby, independent wildlife specialist.
Kataza has not yet rejoined the troop from which he was removed. Here he is photographed with the troop at Slangkop mountain shortly before his removal. ‘Now that Kataza has been returned, he may one day become the alpha or he may disperse naturally to one of the other nearby troops to take the position of alpha. Kataza is an impressive baboon who has all the makings of being a good leader when he is ready.’ – Brett Glasby, independent wildlife specialist.
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  • Ridiculous. Residents end up being imprisoned in their own homes. No window or door can be left even slightly ajar. If you turn your bsck for a minute or two, and theres one nearby, they sneak in and create havoc. Let alone the safety issue with children being caught in room with these potentially lethal animals. I have first hand experience of this in Pringle Bay… its not at all pleasant. These animals should be removed to areas where they do not interact with humans.

  • This is insane. Allowing baboons to take over and let homes and businesses be invaded is just stupid. they should be relocated far away in their habitat.

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