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BABOON MANAGEMENT

Juvenile baboon fatally shot in ‘distressing’ Seaforth incident — SPCA launches urgent investigation 

The young baboon, named Shadow, was fatally shot in Seaforth near Simon’s Town, Cape Town, on Tuesday, triggering an investigation by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA. Many activists and experts have warned that continuing without a strategic management plan for some of the Cape Peninsula’s troops is inviting disaster for both baboons and people.

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA has launched an investigation following the fatal shooting of a juvenile baboon, named Shadow by volunteers, in Seaforth — a suburb of Simon’s Town in Cape Town — on Tuesday, 19 September. A resident of the area has reportedly confessed to shooting three baboons from the Seaforth troop, a small group of about 11 baboons who splintered away from the Smitswinkel Bay troop.

According to the SPCA, the shooter claimed the baboons had entered her residence, ransacking her kitchen, and that she acted in “self-defence” against an attack.

“However, the SPCA challenges this narrative. Contrary to the perpetrator’s claims, baboons are not typically aggressive unless directly threatened,” stated the SPCA.

“This position is further bolstered by a concerning social media post made by the same individual on the Fish Hoek Community Facebook group a day prior to the incident. In the post, she explicitly threatened to shoot any baboons entering her property, leading the SPCA to believe that the act was intentional and premeditated.”

The SPCA did not name the individual, citing the ongoing investigation. However, it confirmed that its Wildlife Department had taken custody of the deceased baboon and would be conducting a post-mortem examination.

“As a result of this incident, a criminal case has been initiated against the perpetrator at the Simon’s Town South African Police Service (SAPS). Charges have been laid in terms of the Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962 for animal cruelty and the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 for the discharge of a firearm in a residential area,” it stated.

The Western Cape SAPS confirmed that Simon’s Town police registered an enquiry for investigation following the shooting incident. However, it did not respond to other questions from Daily Maverick, including whether the shooter was licensed to possess a firearm and if the firearm remained in her possession.

The shooting forms part of a worrying trend where people are acting unlawfully in their use of weapons against local baboons, according to Jenni Trethowan, founder of Baboon Matters. All too often, these violent incidents are not prosecuted.

“People always say they’re so worried [that] it’s only a matter of time before a baboon bites somebody. I will say this to you — I think it’s a matter of time before a human is shot, a person is shot by a random bullet… When there’s high levels of shooting, that’s when things start going wrong,” said Trethowan.

“If residents see something they have to — for the safety of their own families and everybody else — report it, and we need prosecutions.”

Baboon conservation and reporting illegal human activity guide

Read more in Daily Maverick: Young female baboon cruelly shot and paralysed in Constantia, leading to euthanasia

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape of Good Hope SPCA ‘sickened’ after second wounded baboon is euthanised in a week

Violence against baboons

Tuesday’s shooting comes amid growing concerns about the management of baboon troops on the Cape Peninsula, and the high rate of human-induced injury and death among local baboons.

The SPCA statement on the shooting highlights that the City of Cape Town had abandoned the Seaforth troop.

“(The) City of Cape Town ceased these monitoring activities. This abandonment has led to increased baboon incursions into urban areas, interactions with residents and tourists, and damage to properties. The local community has voiced its anger over the City’s decision, and sadly, the SPCA has observed a concerning increase in injuries and fatalities among the troop members,” the statement said.

A report issued by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA in July 2023 found that of the 22 baboons admitted to SPCA facilities between April 2022 and March 2023, one was dead on arrival, 15 had to be euthanised by the organisation and nine died while receiving care. The majority of the mortalities (72%) were found to have human-induced causes, while only 9% were attributed to natural or unknown causes.

“The Cape of Good Hope SPCA remains concerned about the welfare aspect of chacma baboons on the Cape peninsula… [We] would like to see stricter regulations and penalties being applied and enforced concerning the private, domestic use of air rifles and air-rifle-like weapons (including so-called ‘paintball guns’), that are being widely employed against urban edge wildlife species, with special emphasis on the baboons,” stated the report.

Trethowan pointed out that the latest annual baboon population census, for the period July 2022 to June 2023, indicated a significant drop in the total baboon population. Baboon numbers were shown to have dropped by 37, from 498 to 461, since the previous census year.

The baboon deaths recorded in the latest census stood at 58, the highest they have been since 2018. The number of human-induced deaths stood at 26, the highest it has been since the first recorded data in 2013.

“What it says to me overall is that in the absence of any plan from the authorities, people are getting frustrated and are acting unlawfully, and baboons are being killed,” said Trethowan.

Seaforth resident Ashleigh Olsen is one of a handful of volunteers who, on a daily basis, warns traffic when the small Seaforth troop is on a busy road. “This has been a very sad week for the Seaforth troop and for Simon’s Town as a whole. The shooting of this young and innocent animal has not only left blood on the streets of this town but also on the hands of all those entrusted to protect this very precious part of the world and its biological diversity – most especially, one of our keystone species, the chacma baboon,” she said.

“We are located right by the [Table Mountain National Park] and Unesco World Heritage Site of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The reason people visit here and want to live here is because it is so naturally beautiful. It is also the natural home of the baboons. Yet some people refuse to adapt to living next to this wild area and refuse to take any accountability for the role they play in either conflict or co-existence.


“We are tired of conflict and want co-existence. We cannot keep blaming baboons for unacceptable human behaviour.”


Olsen added that people could not continue to avoid accountability for the massive impact the human population, both local residents and visitors, had on the natural ecosystem.


“We continue to ask authorities to provide key elements that are congruent with our location to the park, such as: proper waste management, law enforcement, signage, information/awareness, traffic control and effective ranger programmes for all of our troops, including the Seaforth troop,” she said.

“We have failed in protecting this young life, but have an opportunity to now protect the rest of this troop and all the other troops of the Cape. It’s time to step up to not only… the name of World Heritage Site, but also to protecting the World Heritage Site and its wildlife. We can do better.”

Olsen expressed hope the case could set an example that “we do not tolerate this violence towards our wildlife. This violence affects both animals and people and we cannot allow it. This was a very young baboon and it was still dependent on its mother, who is now grieving its loss along with the rest of the troop.”

She thanked the Cape of Good Hope SPCA for their “swift action in investigating this case and keeping the public informed”.

The management of baboons on the Cape Peninsula is in the process of being taken over by the Cape Peninsula Baboon Management Joint Task Team (CPBMJTT), comprising the City of Cape Town, SANParks and CapeNature. The CPBMJTT recently announced its new Baboon Strategic Management Plan would be finalised by the end of September.

In order to smooth the transition to the new plan, the City of Cape Town’s Urban Baboon Programme — run by service provider NCC Environmental Services — has been extended for 18 months beyond its original end date of 30 June this year.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Activists welcome bid to extend Urban Baboon Programme, but red-flag budget and resource problems

Seaforth’s splinter troop

However, there are certain baboon troops along the urban edge that no longer fall under the city’s management plan. The Seaforth troop is one of these, alongside among others the CT2 (Constantia 2) and Plateau Road troops.

According to the CPBMJTT, when the Seaforth troop split from the Smitswinkel troop in 2022, resources needed to be drawn from the NCC’s contingency fund to provide rangers for the new group. While the rangers attempted to move the Seaforth baboons back into the Smitswinkel Bay area, these attempts were unsuccessful. When the contingency funding was exhausted in June 2023, management of the group was withdrawn.

Lorraine Holloway, founder of Baboons of the South, said, “The baboon shooting [on Tuesday] is a tragedy, and it calls for a response from the [CPBMJTT] to provide rangers for this small troop. We have written three letters to the JTT… asking that they address this matter urgently and provide contingency funding for managing this troop.”

Residents have repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of management for the Seaforth troop. Speaking to Daily Maverick before the latest shooting occurred, Holloway said, “I think that my request to the city or to the [CPBM] JTT is [that] you cannot abandon a troop of… baboons in a residential, high foot-traffic tourist area and leave them to their own devices. You’re inviting disaster.

“Tourists are feeding [them]… and they don’t understand about keeping distance from baboons.”

Olsen has also been contacting local tour operators to educate tourists and has been trying to get rangers for the troop. Olsen was one of the first people on the scene after the juvenile baboon was shot.

Olsen pointed out that the effectiveness of rangers was dependent on the quality of their training and work. Where their actions were not well executed, they sometimes drove troops into other urban zones, or caused the baboons to split up.

She added that the rangers’ work was often made more difficult by the proliferation of attractants in the area, namely human food waste.

“A ranger programme would work very well with good field support. It does work with good training… But the big thing is then, what are the baboons coming for? They’re not just coming to hang out; they’re coming for food,” said Olsen.

Any ranger programme therefore needed to be coupled with effective waste management, she continued. Some local residents and groups have already taken steps to tackle the waste problem. Environmental organisation Green Group Simon’s Town has piloted a baboon-proof bin project and connected local business owners to pig farmers who can remove wet waste for use as pig feed.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The cycle of life and waste on the urban edge of Simon’s Town

Olsen also advocated for more signage in Seaforth warning people about how to handle baboon encounters.

The CPBMJTT indicated that it was aware of concerns regarding the Seaforth troop, and was investigating possible interventions. The task team has plans to host a meeting with Simon’s Town residents before the end of October.

“The city has finalised an order for locks to be fitted to refuse bins in areas frequented by baboons. More information about the delivery times and distribution programme will be made available as soon as the bins are available,” stated the CPBMJTT.

“Furthermore, various types of bins suitable for public spaces are being tested, and enforcement of the Urban Waste Management By-law is conducted on an ongoing basis to ensure adequate waste management in areas with shops, restaurants, and businesses.”

However, local residents and baboon activists have expressed dissatisfaction with the CPBMJTT’s progress thus far. Trethowan said, “While the JTT is busy behind closed doors, making their plans, it’s chaos on the ground… We’ve got a crisis happening now. What is the plan for that?” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Leon Potgieter says:

    Hi Tamsin
    Why on earth to you post a photograph of the dead juvenile baboon ?
    WHY

  • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

    DM, at least show some respect of the murdered baboon by pixelating its face.

  • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

    “King of my castle”,

    but still master of her domain? 🙂

  • MK Osi says:

    Shooting a pest in your residence = big problems, buddy

    Shooting an automatic weapon on camera at a crowded event + slowly craving the brainstem from a cow = my culture immunity

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    Like the majority of reports on this subject, this piece presents a picture of baboons as an innocent party and the victim of random acts of human cruelty.

    The truth however is that if you live in Simon’s Town you are a prisoner in your own home. You can’t leave a door or window open even a crack. Your gutters, roof and garden are going to be repeatedly vandalised. You can’t grow anything that looks as if it might be edible. Too bad if you have pets of your own, they are locked in with you.

    You seldom get a good night’s sleep if you live anywhere near the places the baboons like to roost, which is the rooftops above the shops, cafes and restaurants which are the source of their favourite food: sugar in all its forms. (Don’t think you’ll be safe at an indoor restaurant table either.) Baboons are noisy.

    The streets near these places are usually covered in baboon shit. And the dental health, in particular of the baboons is being severely impacted by their unnatural diet.

    In the evenings, the baboons are escorted to their favourite roosting place by teams of people slowing down the traffic for them. These pro-baboon activists seem inexplicably to think that this is in the best interests of the animals. They do not care about your interests.

    As a human, you have no rights. You’re not allowed to retaliate in any way, shape or form. And you’ve been repeatedly fobbed off by the people whose job is to protect you, namely the City of Cape Town, Sanparks and CapeNature.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    The problem is a human problem, not a baboon problem. Everything… EVERYTHING.. . about the conflict begins and ends with human behaviour, not baboon behaviour. Supposedly, humans have the intellect to outwit a wild animal. Until that happens, baboons will react to human behaviour in a predictive manner. So we should begin with prison sentences for anyone seen feeding a wild animal. And this should be what baboon monitors job is. To have cameras that get the evidence. Visitors to areas should know that if they feed wildlife, they land in prison for a period. Like we know not to take drugs to Thailand. It must be known. Included is if people unwittingly feed baboons by leaving dogfood or bins around. Or visit current hotspots and get raided. That should be seen as negligence . These people who create the pain for the rest of society must compensate for their poor behaviour wrt wild animals. Start here.

    If the baboons fail to get food from humans they will move. It’s that simple.

  • Thanks for the great article DM and for highlighting this very important, multifaceted situation.
    On the following statement:
    “According to the CPBMJTT, when the Seaforth troop split from the Smitswinkel troop in 2022”
    I would just like to add that the Seaforth Troop was already in Seaforth in 2021, not 2022.

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