This morning the Handshake was met by Tali Hoffman, a researcher from the University of Cape Town’s Baboon Research Unit. Tali greeted us at Tokai Forest, on the Cape Peninsula north of Cape Town. The woodland area is a commercially planted area – however a number of baboon troops have taken residence, leading Tali’s research there.
Currently the Cape is undergoing great difficulty with baboon and human conflict. Because of the geography of the Cape, urbanization has completely blocked the baboon’s path in and out of the area. This has lead to a clash between the baboon’s natural migration pattern and the local residential areas. Tali spoke to us about the history of baboons on the peninsula, and the perpetuating situation.
“Baboons are considered as pests and vermin in the area – very little of the area is agricultural land. They are pests in terms of coming in to contact with people’s homes. They play on things – pulling at gutters and destroying thatched roofs.”
Reading newspaper articles it is plain to see that baboons are held in contempt by the Cape community. Raiding houses and even taking residence in Cape Town University, the baboon/human conflict is certainly escalating.
Tali’s solution to the problem is two fold: Baboon management, and people management. “Managing baboons is simpler – as long as we know what they need we can provide it; but trying to do that where people are abundant is quite difficult. People want to develop on land, and not have burglar bars on their windows [to keep the baboons out]. It is also the tourists who need monitoring – especially tourists who might feed the animals only adding to the problem.”
Throughout the South African Handshake, a recurring theme has developed: education. Tali spoke of education being above all else in terms of solution. Tali told us of a specific case, exemplifying the severity of the situation on the Cape. A baboon named Bart was first spotted on the University campus in August last year. Bart is a dispersing male – a baboon who leaves his troop in search for another (a strategy employed by all male baboons at some stage in their lives to prevent inbreeding). Instead of another troop, Bart found University students. He was removed and transported to Cape Point, the furthest possible point away from the campus in the hope that he would integrate with some existing troops in the area. Unfortunately Bart was again found on campus six months later, feeding off human food daily. Bart is now a public figure – known well by people in the area. However due to his reluctance to integrate with other baboons, the only solution deemed suitable by local nature authorities is euthanasia.
This situation is happening now – Tali suggested that Bart might not survive until the end of the week. The Handshake will follow the progress closely over the next few days.