The Baboon Operational Group including:
Table Mountain National Park, City Of Cape Town, CapeNature, Baboon Research Unit, Baboon Liaison Group
Dear Sir, I am writing to query the validity of the recent decision to euthanase the male baboon known as Fred.
As you are all undoubtedly aware, it is well known that many baboons learn by imitating each other – the younger ones watch the older, experienced baboons and often learn to emulate behaviour – particularly if it is has benefit. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that the conditions that may lead to problematic behaviour have been properly solved – otherwise there may well be a perpetual cycle of behaviour patterns being repeated; have areas of concern that led to Fred’s demise been adequately addressed?
In addition to the above, are concerns as to how the protocol has been followed? In reviewing the process – and particularly the mitigating circumstances – I have doubts that due considerations were taken.
Please could you answer the following points:
Alpha Male status.
It has been stated that Fred was no longer the alpha male of the Millers Point troop. Please could you confirm whether specific “dominance matrix” studies had been undertaken to ascertain this important piece of information. In the absence of such specific studies, deciding who the alpha male is would be entirely speculative.
If the case is open to speculation then surely you should be reliant on the person who has the most field experience of that individual male as well as his interactions with his troop for input. If this were to be the case then Mark Duffle’s observations would hold the most relevance as he spends the greater part of each day observing and working with the Millers Point troop.
In Mr. Duffels’ opinion, Fred was most certainly the dominant male – based on the following facts:
- Fred dominated food opportunity –including (as widely agreed) food from vehicles.
- The majority of the troop followed Fred
- Jimmy, an adult male of the Millers Point Troop has been mentioned as a potential alpha male yet he frequently leaves the troop for extended periods to raid into urban areas.
Unless there is quantitative scientific proof to show that Mark’s observations are inaccurate, we must accept that Fred was still the alpha male, and in terms of the protocol for individual raiding males, he should not have been euthanased.
2. Municipal and Commercial Waste
The uncontained waste at the Millers Point Ski Boat Club, in particular, is an on-going source of easily obtainable food. Although I have seen the statements whereby it was argued that it was not the waste that caused a problem with regards to Fred, rather that the problem was specific to raiding from vehicles; I do not accept this as I believe that the proximity of the waste in relation to the on-going vehicles stopping along the scenic route were a collective attraction and combined source of easy food – I do not believe it is accurate to separate the two issues.
In his letter to STEAC of 24.03.11, Prof. O’Riain makes the point that the stretch of road in which most incidents occur is a mere 1km – within this 1km is the ski boat club, caravan park and their relevant waste – none of which is secure from baboons – there are no baboon proof bins, nor baboon proof cages for waste in the area.
It is my contention that the volumes of food found in the waste at the ski boat club and caravan park provide a great attraction to the baboons and are a huge reward that undoubtedly keep the baboons in that contained area.
In any event, in terms of the Protocol for individual raiding baboons, it is specific – if there is no baboon proofing of authorities waste or commercial waste this should be considered as mitigating factors. There is clearly no baboon proofing evident.
I have been writing letters to both TMNP and City of Cape Town about this specific issue since 2008; had the area been baboon proofed and waste contained, there would be no case for mitigation, but as the waste is still so easily available to the baboons it is my belief that it was erroneous to kill Fred. The City of Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park do themselves (and the general public) a disservice by not providing proper waste management in this area as but not doing so they have:
- Left the door open to the contention that lack of baboon proofing of waste is a reasonable reason for the behaviour of the Millers Point troop, causing them to remain in an area where they are securing easily obtained foods.
- Created an environmental problem for not only baboon management, but also for the marine protected reserve of Millers point, as it has been seen and reported that the unmanaged waste blows into the sea and contaminates the inter-tidal zone.
- Created an apparent precedent – the message being obvious to all those who use the site, “It is not necessary to baboon proof waste”. This urgently needs to be resolved and improved as a priority.
Although there were monitors working with the Miller Point troop, it seems fair comment that there was consensus amongst decision makers that the monitors had been ineffectual for the best part of one year:
- according to Prof. O’Riain in his letter to STEAC 24.03.11 “and the monitors are powerless to stop him as he simply attacks and displaces them (for the last year)”
- From Dr. E. Jordan as quoted in the Peoples Post: “She explains that the NCC monitors were “scared” of Fred. “You cannot reclaim your territory if you are scared of the animal”
What steps had been taken to remedy the ineffective monitors? Had any training been given to the monitors? Had different, more experienced monitors been deployed to that area to deal with a known to be difficult situation?
It must be noted that the Black Marlin restaurant, which is in the midst of the Miller Point 1km raiding zone has experienced a remarkable drop off in raids since employing just one effective baboon monitor – Mark Duffle. The fact that Mark can single-handedly manage the troop and keep them away from the restaurant, and not be “attacked” by as Prof. O’Riain describes above, demonstrates clearly that the baboon was not so much the problem as the ineffective monitors are.
If none of the above actions had been implemented to improve the monitoring, which was known to be problematic for at least one year, then it was not acceptable to kill Fred.
4. Law Enforcement
It is widely acknowledged that law enforcement remains a huge problem and that – to date – few (if any) people have been prosecuted for feeding baboons along this scenic route.
In his email of 27.03.11, Dr. Noble acknowledges the problem “There has been talk and also lots of volunteer action for more than two years. But no law enforcement….”
In my own experience, I have encouraged people who have witnessed the feeding of baboons to lay charges, and in all cases it has been CapeNature who has been the stumbling block – refusing to prosecute specific cases (for numerous reasons), with the overall result been a complete lack of law enforcement. Although CapeNature proudly announced new, improved laws regarding the feeding of baboons; if the new law remains unenforced as the previous one had been, it will remain just another piece of ineffectual legislation.
It is an interesting – if somewhat ironic – point to note, that under the new law regarding feeding of baboons, both the City of Cape Town and the Table Mountain National Park should be fined by CapeNature for feeding baboons on their property.
It is unclear who monitored the numbers of attacks attributed to Fred and who compiled the case history, the current service provider would have limited input as the monitors are not always present, so who would have taken overall responsibility for collating the case history?
By all accounts, the BLG have had talked about the case, but have yet to see the case history – Dr. Noble’s email of 27.03.11 “….By the BLG meeting on 16 March nothing had been done and we asked again. And again when we heard on the 23rd (I think) that WAC had made a recommendation. The BLG still hasn’t seen the documentation.” It is noteworthy that without having ever seen the dossier or case study, the majority of BLG still took a majority vote to accept the WAC decision – surely a flawed process.
In the People’s Post 29.03.11, Dr. Elette Jordan reports that the “city received one affidavit to testify about Fred’s aggressive behaviour”. If, indeed, it took just one affidavit to secure Fred’s death warrant this is completely untenable. Further, it is unacceptable that the case history was not available for comment and input prior to Fred’s death. It remains unclear as to why the Operational Committee remain so clandestine in their duties.
All parties contributing to decisions regarding baboon management should be transparent with the decisions made regarding all aspects of baboon management and should be prepared to withstand public scrutiny – this is clearly not the case as to date three males have been killed without informing the residents or public of their reasons and intention to undertake such drastic actions. Minimal information pertaining to the deaths of Sol, William and now Fred have only emerged after the baboons had been killed.
It is completely unacceptable that a baboon pays the price (with his life) for the misdemeanours of humans. We have trained baboons to take food from humans for the past eighty years – anecdotal evidence from the 1930’s shows that people have been feeding baboons at the Millers Point scenic route for this extended period of time. The authorities have not provided adequate baboon proof bins or waste management, they have not provided law enforcement and they acknowledge that the provided monitors were ineffectual. Advice from known experts was not sought and there was once again a complete lack of transparency in relaying planned “corrective strategies” to the residents and general public.
Baboon Matters Trust is demanding that any further euthanasing of individual raiding baboons be immediately suspended until such time as our concerns regarding the death of Fred have been adequately addressed, and until such time as the authorities are doing everything in their power to ensure all mitigating circumstances have been properly dealt with.
We draw attention to the complete lack of transparency from the Operational Group and the Baboon Liaison Group in dealing with members of the general public and request that, with immediate effect, minutes of every meeting are made available to the public within one week of meetings – this is to include prior warning, motivation and substantive facts in the event that any further baboons are to be killed.
I look forward to your urgent response to the concerns raised in this letter.
Jenni Trethowan of Baboon Matters Trust 29 March 2011.