Media - Articles: Baboons JULY 2004; by Karin Saks

Eugene Marais - poet, advocate, doctor, naturalist and author of “My Friends the Baboons” and “The Soul of the Ape”, may have been as colourful and textured as the South African History of which he is part. In 1907, he lived close to a group of three hundred baboons in The Waterberg.

What drove him to research the Chacma baboon as extensively as he did?

What caused him to question their inner- life; to analyse and experiment; to watch and befriend?

A hint of an answer may be revealed in his statement;

“No man can ever attain to anywhere near a true conception of the subconscious in man who does not know the primates under natural conditions”.

In spite of obvious differences, baboons are nevertheless related to us. We share 91% of the same DNA - we have the same emotional language. Observing the subconscious in baboons allows us a glimpse into the psychology of all primates, including ourselves.

Along the Garden Route, our baboons are no less intriguing than those in the day of Marais;. Having observed those in The Crags for a few years, my mind remains challenged, my passion held; the insight of Marais’ prose has been magnified and the questions he gave birth to continue to this day.

Groups consisting of 300 members no longer exist. Numbers have decreased and troop structures have been destroyed after years of conflict between humans and baboons. The endangered status of both the Vervet and the Chacma is internationally recognised (they fall under appendix 2 of C.I.T.E.S.), yet we turn a blind eye and still regard them as “ problem animals’ - ensuring their progressive eradication as they continue to be shot, poisoned and captured. Without adequate laws to protect them, the only hope may lie with us – our tolerance and understanding.

Unfortunately, this continuing discord has also led to an age-old negative reputation – myths and misunderstandings; what we don’t understand, we fear and what we fear we destroy. To its enemies, the baboon is seen as dangerous - even vindictive, but those who love this primate paint an opposing picture. Could it be possible that our actions mirror their response to us? Baboon behaviour is adaptable and depends largely on environmental factors. Amongst troop members, relationships are worked out on a reciprocal system – give and take. Not surprisingly, this system extends to the delicate relationship between us and our simian neighbors; consequently, a hostile environment may cause negative consequences just as a tolerant one is likely to bring the same.

The males leave their troop of birth and can spend up to two months alone while moving into a new group. Without the protection of the troop, these single males are extremely vulnerable at this time. Males are necessary for the protection of the young as well as the rest, and their movement between troops ensures genetic mixing. Often these males are mistakenly condemned as “rogues” without further questioning into their single status. Targeted impulsively, their loss causes a ripple effect throughout the troop structure resulting in infanticide and disrupted troop relationships.

An integral aspect of the environment, the baboons of The Garden Route offer endless lessons, entertainment and tourist interest. Although there is no simple solution to solving the human/baboon conflict, a management programme that encompasses all the facets of the problem should go a long way to helping the situation;


· If baboons are on your property it can be assumed that something is attracting them and the attraction needs to be eliminated if possible. Once there is no longer any reason, they will eventually tire of coming past your home.

· Vegetable gardens, compost heaps and fruit trees are not advisable but if necessary , they need to be enclosed in a cage or electric fencing .
· Windows and doors need to be closed (when you go out). When at home, they should not have openings wider than 8cm.

· Burglar bars are the best solution to having open windows that baboons cannot get through .

· Closed curtains, wooden shutters or one way reflective windows help too .

· Rubbish needs to be secure in a baboon proof bin or stored in the garage until collection.

· An indigenous garden is not more attractive to baboons than the foliage outside residential areas .



· Most baboons in this area, will respond and run away when shouted at . If this does not work, squirting water through a hosepipe has proved to be effective in The Cape Peninsula. Other short term solutions such as loud noises or rubber masks also help until the baboons realise they are not harmful.


· The best way to deal with a strange baboon is to exhibit passive body language and move out of his way.

· If the baboon believes you are ignoring him, he has no reason for fear and reaction. It is best not to make direct eye contact in this situation.

· It is important that the baboon has an escape route. If there isn’t one, gently back up and open a window then make sure you are not obstructing the escape path .

· Never corner a baboon or trap her inside.

· It is important to never try and retrieve anything that has been taken. If it is not food, it will be dropped at some stage.


· In agricultural areas, electric fencing and baboon monitors are the most efficient options.

Another option is to establish an alternative foraging programme nearby. Sprinkling dry corn requires the troop to work hard to obtain their food and because this is a time consuming activity, they are distracted for hours from the crops they may have initially tried to get to. A programme such as this needs to be an ongoing process and if moved further and further away will lead the troop away from the raiding area. The corn should not substitute their diet but can offer enough to supplement it.




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