The Death of Noskethi

The Baboon Liaison Group (BLG) has been asked to add comment to the article written by Jenni Trethowan on the tragic shooting of the baboon known as Noskethi, an adult male baboon from the Da Gama troop.

Jenni expresses the outrage felt by all of us at the illegal shooting of Noskethi.  We agree with her, and the BLG is working with the authorities to ensure that the perpetrator is charged and prosecuted for his actions.  We also share her very evident frustration. How can the baboons be managed more effectively?

There are no easy answers to this. And there is no single answer – each area and each baboon troop is different – there are different geophysical and vegetation environments.  ‘Holding the line’ is an approach designed to give the baboons maximum access to natural land and zero access to urban areas. This management approach was developed south of Simon’s Town, where the line is tightly confined by the mountains and the sea and where the monitors were equipped with appropriate tools that scared baboons away.  This approach is much more difficult, for example, in the Da Gama area, a densely populated urban area with a gently sloping, meandering urban edge. Consequently holding the line was never proposed for this area. Also the different troops have learned different “tricks” where they have been encouraged by humans who feed them or do not properly manage their waste and compost.  For example, baboons at Smitwinkel Bay can open car doors as they have learned that tourists often have food in their vehicles. Furthermore, as interaction with humans on the Peninsula has increased, the baboons have lost their natural fear/suspicion of humans, making chasing them more difficult.

Currently monitoring is the main method used to attempt to keep baboons out of the urban area.  It has worked effectively in certain areas in the past. It is less effective in other areas. Monitoring relies on the baboons being afraid of the monitors, on the troop sticking together, on there being no dense vegetation in which the baboons are concealed, and on the monitors being able to keep up with the troop, sometimes in very difficult terrain.  The main chasing technique currently used is noise aversion – usually the shout, whistle and clapping of hands. In selected areas whips are occasionally used to make a loud cracking noise, (they are never used on the actual baboon). Monitors, like the public, are required to keep a distance from the baboons. They are not allowed to touch, hurt or feed the baboons.  Monitors may not eat or drink in front of baboons, litter, or make any open fires.  Monitors have a strict code of conduct. They all carry identification, are required to respect the privacy and property of residents, and are not allowed to enter any private property without permission of the landowner. This can make them seem ineffective in urban areas when they are unfairly criticised for “just standing around doing nothing”. Furthermore, if the troop is foraging peacefully, just outside the urban edge the monitors keep their distance and leave the baboons to their own devices. This may well lead to misperceptions by the public that the monitors are not doing their job. 

The management authorities are struggling to find ways of effectively keeping humans and baboons separate in all our different environments. Many different ideas are being talked about.  Contraception of males is one of them and was first proposed by the SPCA in 2009 in relation to managing dispersing males. Contraception is a widely used management tool in any closed environment, including small reserves, sanctuaries and zoos. It is part of a menu of options to be discussed with the citizens of Da Gama Park along with many other options.

The BLG has the utmost respect for the contribution made by the scientists who we know to be totally dedicated to searching for a way to prevent the extinction of baboons on the Peninsula. In fact with the current management methods the total number of baboons has grown from an estimated 410 to 471 (Beamish 2010).   A recent international workshop bringing world experts to Cape Town for the latest ideas on managing the urban baboon issue confirmed that our scientists are world leaders in this difficult field.  The BLG is committed to ensuring that the management of our baboons is based on research.

Jenni does raise the key question:  How can we better manage the humans who continue to provide easy food which lures these smart animals into urban areas?  The BLG are working with the City on a set of bye laws that will provide enabling legislation and more waste management control, and with Cape Nature to get proactive Law Enforcement. THIS must be the key focus of our efforts.

Baboon Liaison Group

23 November, 2011

 

Letter From Jenni Trethowan of Baboon Matters in response to the shooting of Noskethi Baboon

Hi to all,

On Friday last week the male baboon Noskethi was shot by a Fish Hoek resident.  In an interview with the local press it seems that Dr. O’Riain has suggested putting the troop onto contraceptives as it is his belief that there is not enough low lying forage for that troop…….

Below is my response to the press.

Not Noskethi….again

Noskethi was shot again last week.  The shooting seems to be an open and closed book of “self-defence” as  Noskethi was shot whilst he was crossing the fence to exit his attackers property…. 

For Noskethi this was not the first time he had been shot – rather it was one of many instances.  In 2002 there was evidence of pellet wounds, and a long straight wound across his back that had every appearance of a deep whip lash.  In 2007 an aggressive naval officer shot Noskethi with a bullet designed to explode on impact – luckily the poor shot deflected off the wall of the house and so the wound was not lethal – as was intended. In 2009 a pellet created a fracture to his shin – and x-rays at the time revealed many other pellets in this male baboon.  Despite charges being laid, witnesses giving affidavits etc. none of these shootings were ever prosecuted; our best efforts to get the authorities to taken action came to naught.  Ironically, perhaps the death shot will be the only prosecuted case.

My experience of Noskethi was that of a “gentle giant” – he certainly was a big baboon – and we thought him to be extremely handsome (in baboon terms). The book “Beast or Blessing” contains stories about Noskethi – sent in by residents who adored this charming baboon character.  (go to http://scenicsouth.co.za//2010/01/beast-or-blessing-new-book-from-baboon-matters/ for info about Beast or Blessing) He never really looked for trouble, but clearly the easy rewards of villages were just too tempting for a “foodie” such as Noskethi.  So he raided houses, people shot at him but the problem was never really resolved – or solved, even in his death.

Baboons raid for easy food rewards.  They hang out in the low-lying areas where villages are situated because villages present the easiest returns for the least efforts.  Has shooting baboons stopped them raiding?  No – not even a little.

An effective tool in reducing baboon-human interactions and conflicts has always been the baboon monitors, yet The Echo reported residents as saying that the men appeared “clue-less” (17.11.11).  Perhaps the “cluelessness” is in the rather clue-less management strategies currently followed. Ideals whereby the monitors stand around the village edges “hoping” that baboons will “choose” to spend time in natural areas rather than in the villages where they enjoy bountiful rewards and easy human food.  The poor old monitors have to hold the line, expecting baboons to realise that their mere presence is enough to quell baboon attempts to gain the calorie rich food so casually left around by humans.

The efficacy of “holding the line” strategy has been questioned on a repeated basis, but scientists and authorities have adamantly adhered to the management technique – refusing to “herd baboons like hairy sheep”.  Interesting then, that in People Post article 15.11.11 Dr. O’Riain is directly quoted as stating that when a troop “is continually pushed out of one area” they will find another area to raid.  According to management policy the baboons have not been pushed anywhere for over two years now…

Shockingly, extensive work carried out by dedicated scientists over the past few years did not reveal that Elsies Peak, Lewis Guy Dam and much of TMNP land between Ocean View and Solole are part of the home range for this troop, and these areas – although not low-lying – provide excellent forage for the baboons.  The fact that the home range of this troop was not clearly identified could be due to the fact that the troop was not part of the study – but that did not stop our enthusiastic scientist from proclaiming that this troop is hemmed in and does not have enough low lying forage.

Further confusion comes from the recommendation from said scientist that the troop should now be put onto contraception – and this will stop the raiding how?? Well the notion offers great research potential – “will contraception of baboons stop raiding?” –is what they are thinking?  I am not too sure how the suggestion of contraception (coming from the head of our local baboon researchers) ties in with statements from the city veterinarian and her fellow colleague Ms Julia Woods both of whom rejected notions of contraception as they claim that “it’s said that we’re taking away one of the basic structures of baboon behaviour and that is actually having a family. Then you might as well sterilise them because you’re taking away that what makes them” . (Da Gama Park Meeting Nov 11)

A pertinent observation for our BCA team is that pregnant females and females with young baboons are the ones least likely to raid villages. Frequently the “moms and babies” remain outside the village whilst the others raid – of course we will see moms and babies in the villages when the troop is moving as a whole, but seldom will the females and babies raid into homes without  the entire troop  present. Once the baboons are all on contraception or sterilisation they will all be free to raid without the constraints of infants or juveniles….

How can we expect the residents to do what residents need to do to effect positive change, change that will reduce baboons raiding into villages, when they witness such laughable management ideas from those in authority? The Baboon Conservation Authorities (BCA) are well informed by some of the  local scientists whom offer their advice and so form decisions.  On that basis, we can look forward to monitors continuing to “hold the line”; a strategy which, so far, has enabled baboons to visit villages on an on-going basis.   Alternately, I guess, we will wait until contraception has reduced baboon numbers to such a degree that there are so few baboons that raiding won’t really be problematic……

There is not enough space to argue the ethics of contraception or sterilization of baboons – if indeed that is what is being suggested.  However, it is clear that before we start along that bumpy road the humans need to clean up their act.  The authorities need to urgently relook at ineffective management strategies, and should be focussing effort on education and law enforcement as an immediate and positive step towards resolving the on-going baboon human interactions – and the residents?  Well the residents should stop shooting and focus efforts on reducing attractions such as waste, fruiting trees etc.  Baboon proofing your home and garden will be far more effective that shooting has ever been.