Baboon Facts 1: Life and Death
by Assoc. Prof. Justin O’ Riain, UCT Baboon Research Unit
The Cape Peninsula is home to 16 baboon troops, comprising approximately 460 individuals. These troops are counted bi-annually by researchers and vary in size from about 7 individuals to 68 individuals.
Peninsula baboons are the only baboons protected by law from hunting. Elsewhere in the Western Cape and South Africa a property owner who can demonstrate that baboons are causing damage and loss of farming income can apply for a permit to hunt them with a gazetted bag limit of 5 a day. Permits are only issued if every reasonable effort has been made to protect the property.
On the Peninsula a baboon that has become aggressive in its attempt to secure food from humans is not exempt from being put down and every management document produced since 1998 has included the option to euthenase raiding baboons. However, recently the authorities, researchers and civic representatives greatly improved the decision making criteria for managing raiding baboons by producing a new, more balanced ‘raiding baboon protocol’.
This protocol ensures that the reasons why a given baboon has become a raider are acknowledged and addressed when the raiding behaviour is assessed. For the first time mitigating factors such as the social status of the animal, its condition, and food and water availability are also considered.
This new protocol ensures improved management of both baboons and their human neighbours. It is an important step in the long road towards a sustainable baboon population that has much reduced conflict with residents.
Baboon Facts 2: Meet the Family by Esme Beamish, Baboon Research Unit, Univ. of Cape Town
Understanding baboon social behaviour is essential for the sensitive, effective management that is required when humans and baboons live in close proximity as they do on the Cape Peninsula.
Adult females, juveniles and infants make up the majority of a baboon troop. Females reach sexual maturity at around 5 years of age and have their first baby, which they carry for 6 months, soon after this. The newborn baboon is the focus of attention of the mother and is fussed over by the troop. Babies cling to their mother’s belly for protection and easy access to milk and are weaned by about one year of age. Females remain in the troop they were born into so most females are relatives.
Whilst there are a number of adult males in a troop it is led by the most dominant male – the Alpha Male. This mature male is fiercely protective of the females and infants within the troop and jealously guards his right to mate with receptive females. He also dominates access to food.
Males take longer to mature sexually and typically between 7 – 8 years of age, the young male leaves his troop in search of unrelated females. This is a stressful time as, alone, he is vulnerable to other males and predators including humans. Death often results and it is thus normal to have 2-3 adult females to 1 adult male in a troop. When a dispersing male approaches a new troop, he is met with aggression from the resident males while the females with babies remain close to the resident males for protection.
Sadly, the arrival of a new alpha male in the troop often results in the death of infant baboons. This renders mothers sexually receptive sooner and the new male can start his own family.
Esme Beamish, Baboon Research Unit, University of Cape Town
Baboon Facts 3
Research performed by Esme Beamish on the Cape Peninsula baboons points to a sustainable baboon population that is experiencing less human baboon conflict. By inference therefore management and conservation have improved and we should be commending the authorities and not condemning them in a public protest. If people are against the killing of individual baboons (3 in the last 10 years, < 1% of total Peninsula population) that are perceived to be a threat to public health and safety then they should be encouraged to do so using the established channels of communication. Contact your elected Baboon Liaison Group representative who will relay your point(s) to the relevant authorities on a monthly basis for discussion and feedback. This approach will ensure that individuals are provided with the relevant facts pertinent to the issues raised. This is a sound alternative to the highly emotive press release which in its brief message contains numerous factual errors and emotive statements that may well mislead the general public.
1) The Peninsula population has increased from 365 in 1998 to 475 in 2010. An increase of 110 animals.
2) The number of troops has increased from 10 to 16.
3) The sex ratio in 1998 was highly abnormal (8.6 females to every male) due to high adult male mortality resulting from conflict with people and inadequate management. Currently it is 2.5 females to every male which is regarded as normal. This represents a massive improvement in a key indicator of population health and is an indicator of significant improvement in management and conservation of this population.
4) The ratio of adults to juveniles was also highly skewed in 1998 with more immature than mature animals. This has normalised to the expected 50% ratio providing another key indicator of an improvement in health of the population to approximate natural populations that do not live in dense urban areas.
5) Baboon mortality expressed per capita is at its lowest in the last 5 years and the last two years since the appointment of the new service provider and the addition of more monitors to more troops in 2009 has seen the lowest per capita human induced mortality rates in the Peninsula.
6) 6 honours, 3 Masters theses, 6 PhD studies and 2 post-doctorates have contributed data to the Baboon Conservation Authorities (BCA) making baboons the best studied of all the Peninsula mammals and resulting in baboon management being the best informed by independent research of all current faunal management strategies on the Peninsula. The BCA thus consults with recognised local and international experts in
baboon management, conservation and ecology on a monthly basis.
7) All decisions made by the BCA are communicated to the BLG members in monthly meetings who in turn relay this information to the general public. This is a transparent process that is available to all residents living in baboon affected areas.
Justin O’Riain May 12, 2011