New protocols for Baboon Management   –  Councillors get an Update

The new Protocols for managing dispersing male baboons and raiding male baboons came under the spotlight at a meeting between Councillors and Civic Organisations (Baboon Liaison Group) in baboon-plagued areas on Tuesday 31 August.

Procedures on how to deal with problem baboons had been in force since 2001 but as the University of Cape Town, Baboon Research Unit (BRU) explained, the original protocols were woefully inadequate. Councillors were told for example, that if the original, simplistic protocols on dispersing males and perceived problem baboons had been followed over the past nine years, at least 128 baboons would have been removed (euthanized).

The improved Protocols tighten up considerably on procedures. Firstly, a problem baboon is tagged so that it can be correctly identified.  To the lay public one baboon is much like another.  Unless there is an accurate way of identifying the animal much can be blamed on a single baboon whose ‘name’ is known.

Dispersing males are now not simply killed for entering the urban edge three times (as was possible in the past).  The tagged animal is now given multiple chances. In the first instance it is returned to the area from whence it came, and if it leaves again, it is taken to a different area to see if it can integrate with troops there. If he fails to integrate with any troops and once again enters urban areas he is “offered” another area in a different part of the Peninsula.  This clearly gives the dispersing males a much greater chance than the previous protocol did and mimics their natural tendency to learn from their initial dispersal attempts and sample other troops and new unrelated females.

The Councillors also heard that the circumstances around baboons that raid repeatedly are very closely examined before any action is taken. Previously there was no need to quantify or define raiding behaviour and any baboon perceived to be a persistent risk to human health and safety could be put down. The new protocol demands much more information on the baboon and on what causes it to become a problem in the first place.

Firstly the baboon has to be positively identified, and its raiding behaviour has to be quantified – emotive reports are no longer the basis of action. The baboon’s history and the attributes of the urban environment are taken into account – are there attractive fruit trees, is household waste easily available, have people been feeding baboons? These issues then have to be addressed and the residents educated. Has there been a drought that is driving baboons in to urban areas for water and food? Could alternative sources of water be made available?  Only after all of these have been thoroughly investigated is further action considered.

Many members of the public continue to propose translocation off the peninsula as an alternative to killing problem baboons.  Despite the obvious attraction of taking our problems elsewhere there is lack of information on the disease risk to other populations of a peninsula baboon.  Furthermore translocation is stressful to the baboon and can cause huge social disruption in a receiving troop.  New males are known to kill existing baby baboons in order to improve their chances of breeding. Researchers are trying to weigh up the cost benefit:  will saving the life of a single baboon result in the death or disruption of many other baboons in an otherwise stable and healthy receiving troop?  It was explained that translocation is usually only done as a last resort when a wild population needs additional genetic material and / or the receiving population is in danger of local extinction. 

One of the key issues to emerge during the meeting was the need for managing authorities to communicate better with Councillors and the public. The Baboon Liaison Group and Councillors agreed that much of the negative feedback on recent baboon management (the euthanasia of “William of Scarborough”) could have been avoided had the public been made aware of the considerable improvement in protocols and that these had been scrupulously followed.

Press Release by Dr Lesley Shackleton   Baboon Liaison Group

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