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Baboon activists launch legal action seeking better management of troops in the Cape

Baboon activists launch legal action seeking better management of troops in the Cape
A Seaforth, Cape Town, baboon named Mary. Her youngster, Shadow, was killed in a September 2023 shooting. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

In recent years, activists and concerned residents in the Cape Peninsula have sounded the alarm about the escalating problem of human-baboon conflict in the region. Now, legal action has been instituted against local authorities responsible for the implementation of baboon management strategies.

Animal rights activists and concerned residents from communities on the Cape Peninsula have approached the Western Cape High Court to hold authorities accountable for their failure to implement proposed baboon management strategies in the region.

The applicants include the Baboon Matters nonprofit organisation (NPO); Beauty Without Cruelty, an animal rights NPO; Jo-Anne Bosman, an animal activist in the Western Cape; and Ryno Engelbrecht, a concerned resident of Capri in Cape Town’s Deep South. They say they have launched the legal action in response to the “prolonged, unresolved and rapidly escalating human-baboon conflict on the Cape Peninsula”.

Jenni Trethowan, the founder of Baboon Matters, told Daily Maverick that there was a cyclical pattern in which authorities held public meetings, devised strategies to manage the baboon population and then failed to implement them.

“Our main aim is to get them to implement the strategies that they themselves came up with, agreed upon, researched and reported on over the past 23 years… The problem is that the authorities don’t agree with each other on whose responsibility is whose and … where the budget must come from. So, they don’t implement the things that they know are the solutions,” she said.

Among those named as respondents in the case are the City of Cape Town, SANParks, the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board and Table Mountain National Park.

Slow to action

The legal action comes six months after the Cape Peninsula Baboon Management Joint Task Team — made up of the City of Cape Town, SANParks and CapeNature — finalised a new strategic management plan for the local baboon populations. Public engagements around the plan have been ongoing since June 2022.

The new plan was intended to replace the existing Urban Baboon Programme run by NCC Environmental Services, a service provider appointed by the City of Cape Town. However, the city later announced its intention to extend the Urban Baboon Programme for 18 months beyond the initial termination date on 30 June 2023. According to the city, the extension was intended to smooth the transition to the new joint management strategy.

However, Trethowan claims that there has since been little progress towards implementing the stated objectives of the new plan, including the provision of baboon-proof bins and strategic fencing in affected areas.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Draft Cape Peninsula Baboon Strategic Management Plan slammed by activists as public comments deadline looms

“They haven’t even implemented their own bylaws… If the city implemented their bylaws and fined people for poor waste management … where the baboons can come in and get easy access to food, we would see a reduction in attractants straight away,” she said.

In the new Cape Peninsula Baboon Strategic Management Plan, the estimated timeframe for ensuring baboon-proof bins were available for private residences and businesses, and for identifying funding mechanisms through which fencing could be installed, was listed as “December 2023”.

“If the authorities can give us a reasonable date for when these solutions will be implemented, we will not persist with the application, but they are not prepared to do it,” Engelbrecht said.

“For some reason, they do not want to state to the public, ‘This is the date that we, the authorities, will implement our very own solutions to mitigate baboon-human conflict.’ And that is what the application is about — giving us a date as to when they will implement these solutions.”

Baboon activists have raised the alarm about escalating levels of human violence against baboons in recent years, with many linking it to the failure of authorities to enforce by-laws and implement strategies around baboon management.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 

Community concerns

The termination of the Urban Baboon Programme in December will bring an end to the network of city-contracted rangers who are currently tasked with keeping baboons out of urban areas. There is no provision for the continuation of ranger services in the new plan.

This is a key concern within the applicants’ notice of motion to the Western Cape High Court. They seek a court order directing the City of Cape Town to continue the ranger programme past 31 December, “until such time as alternative adequate and effective measures have been implemented to replace the programme”.

Trethowan said that the new management plan proposed a system in which certain solutions for managing baboon populations were paid for by affected communities, through mechanisms such as special ratings areas (SRAs). SRAs are specific geographic areas in which property owners agree to pay for supplementary services.

One of the stated aims of the plan is that the “establishment of Special Rating Areas and other mechanisms is investigated in order to secure and manage community resources for the purposes of baboon monitoring and management, as well as strategic fences”.

“If the communities want rangers, they will have to pay for the rangers,” Trethowan said. “The authorities have basically now handed over the responsibility and the cost of some of the important strategies to communities and residents.

“A concern is the timeframe. If that was a genuine, well thought out strategy, you would need several years at least to do some very proactive work to get the communities to form special rating areas or whatever other funding mechanism is needed.”

Baboon Matters has been helping to raise funds to support rangers for Cape Peninsula troops that are not supported by the City. Both the Seaforth and Constantia 2 troops are no longer managed by the City and Trethowan noted that it had been challenging to source money from the community for the projects.

The applicants have requested that the Western Cape High Court include the following stipulations in its court order:

  • The City of Cape Town must extend ranger services to the Constantia 2, Seaforth and Plateau baboon troops, which are not currently managed;
  • The city must, within 60 days of the order, issue baboon-proof bins to Simon’s Town, Welcome Glen, Da Gama Park, Seaforth, Kommetjie, Scarborough, Ocean View, Misty Cliffs, Tokai, Zwaanswyk, Constantia and Cape Point; and
  • The city and SANParks must, within 180 days of the date of the order, erect strategic fencing within the identified baboon-affected areas.

“We really do need the judge to issue an order to say that they have to implement those solutions and give a date by when they implement them … because if the court action weren’t on the cards … I don’t think there would be an implementable solution,” Trethowan said.

Daily Maverick reached out to the Cape Peninsula Baboon Management Joint Task Team about the legal action but had not received a response at the time of publishing. It will be added if it becomes available. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    The baboon troupes in the deep south of Cape Town are doing very well compared to ten or fifteen years ago.

    I’m not sure if that was due to covid lockdown when they became constant companions around and in our houses.

    For whatever reason, there are many youngster and baby baboons now – a far cry from when the single troupe only counted about seven, with very few capable adult females.

    It’s good to see. However, the problem is not management per se, but rather human invasion of the original baboon roaming space.

    The south peninsula fynbos is thin pickings for baboons, so they used to roam by necessity all the way from the south peninsula, through Table Mountain or via the False Bay coast all the way to the Hottentots Holland mountain range and back again. When last was a baboon seen on Table Mountain?

    They also used to use the coastline for seafood.

    None of this is available to them any more, so the baboons live in a sheltered gaol with very limited resources.

    Their gaol is getting tighter by the day as humans settle more land around here.

    But really awesome to see some flourishing troupes. The baboons taught us humans how to live off the sea originally.

  • Robert de Vos says:

    As a ratepayer in Simon’s Town and constantly invaded by the Waterfall Troop I spent about a year attempting to bring some common sense into the problem, to residents and baboons. Residents having their properties trashed and baboons suffering gunshot injuries and dying from painful infections or being run down on the roads.

    I spent about a year attempting to get the three authorities to resolve the issue, filing a complaint against the Mayco for dereliction of duty – tossed out. Attempted to get the City to supply baboon-proof wheelie bins with no success. Unable to design one. All either incompetent or couldn’t care as baboons are a species “of least concern”.

    Some basic facts: A 240L SABS Wheelie Bin costs about R4000. Multiply by a thousand homes in the Deep South = R4 million Rands which the City is reluctant to spend. The Boulders Penguin Colony provides SANParks with about R350 million per annum, none of which goes towards the baboon problem. Some form of electric fencing above Simon’s Town would not cost less than R20 million and would have to extend from above the Waterfall Naval Barracks to Murdock Valley, which no ratepayer will support.

    There is one long-term solution. Create a Baboon Reserve at Cape Point. electrically fenced from Smitswinkel Bay to Scarborough, generating income, and allowing for veterinary observations and research and control breeding. The balance must be relocated to the distant mountains in the Karoo.

    Anything else is a pipe dream.

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