[monkeywire] Hairy, hungry and in the house

Natasha Matza natasha_primatesanctuary at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 1 00:01:25 EDT 2006

Hairy, hungry and in the house . . .
Baboons and humans have been living in harmony for
decades, but recently baboons have become problematic,
partly because of tourists feeding them
May 29, 2006 Edition 1

Unruly gangs are raiding the expensive homes that line
the spectacular coast of South Africa's Cape
Peninsula, clearing out pantries, emptying fridges and
defecating over the designer furnishings.

It's baboon versus human in a string of wealthy
ocean-front communities 30 minutes from the trendy
centre of Cape Town, a top tourist destination.

Jenni Trethowan is among those trying to defuse the
conflict raging along the picket fences between
suburbia and the rugged mountain slopes of the
peninsula - a jagged tooth of rock projecting into the
Atlantic Ocean.

She takes groups of paying tourists and residents on
walks in a nature reserve to see the wild animals as
they forage, scratch for fleas and squabble among

Her aim is to demonstrate that the baboons are worth
protecting because of their tourism revenue potential.

"There's George," she said on a recent walk as the
first baboon came into sight, slouched on a rock with
a clear view of newly built homes about 300m away.

George is one of the biggest baboons in a troop of
about 20, an adult male weighing 50kg. He yawns
languidly, displaying wickedly curved canine teeth.

"If you think how easily a baboon could rip a person
apart, the fact that they don't is quite remarkable,"
Trethowan said.

She led the group through a grove of pine trees.
Baboons perched in the branches overhead, breaking
cones apart to get at the seeds and occasionally
dropping a surprisingly heavy cone on to the tourists

The baboons appeared indifferent to the humans,
although some of the younger ones approached a boy in
the group and pawed at him tentatively before losing

Trethowan has names for all the baboons and stories
about many. Two females are missing a hind leg; one
was shot and the other was chased off the top of a
high-rise block of flats.


"That's Quizzy," Trethowan said, indicating a lone
male, named for his quizzical expression. "He's the
nicest baboon you could ever hope to meet. I love that

Trethowan works with a team of baboon monitors, nine
men recruited from a poor community whose job it is to
shepherd the animals away from built-up areas.

But the baboons know they will find dustbins full of
leftovers in the suburban yards and that an open
window can mean there is a bowl of tempting fruit
within easy reach.

The troop splits into two and they charge across a
road towards the houses. The monitors drive some of
them back to the reserve, but others hurdle garden
walls and grab what they can.

"They're getting used to getting easy food," said
Trethowan. "The way to stop it is for people to
install baboon-proof garbage cans, put burglar bars on
their windows and avoid growing fruit trees in their

Cases of baboons attacking humans in the peninsula are
rare, although earlier this year a child was reported
to have been mauled by a baboon scavenging for food at
a picnic site on the coast about 35km away.

Donald Garlick, another home owner, said baboons and
humans had lived in harmony for decades. But in recent
years the baboons had become problematic, partly
because of tourists feeding them.

Trethowan said the introduction of monitors had
helped, but many more would be needed.

Researcher Esme Beamish, who conducted the latest
baboon census, said the population had increased by
1.6% since last year, thanks partly to the work of the
monitors. - Reuters


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