5B – Baboons & Garden Route ecosystem

Supporting article B: Unless a suitable strategy for co-existence is found and implemented, the baboons of the Garden Route will soon disappear for good. A project to save a very important link in the ecosystem.


ARTICLE; 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 colorful 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 analyze 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 recognized (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 behavior 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 realize 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 him/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.


The following is a proposal concerning a project in the Western Cape, South Africa. The project aims to confront the human/baboon conflict in the area, thereby offering a model to counteract this issue throughout the country.

Although the Chacma is a potentially endangered species – which falls under appendix 2 of C.I.T.E.S – and has suffered damage to social dynamics, troop structures and significant loss in numbers, this primate continues to be shot, poisoned and captured for research laboratories. In spite of this danger the Chacma is still regarded as a “problem animal” in South Africa.Years of observation have led me to conclude that it is of utmost importance that human/baboon conflict be faced before further damage continues..

Any donations or input contributed to the following project are urgently needed.

Here follows a proposal about the project as well as review comments on the book; LIFE WITH DARWIN, which was recently released by PENGUIN BOOKS here as well as THE HOUSE OF BOOKS in Holland. This book – written by Fransje van Riel – outlines my previous experience with the rehabilitation of orphaned baboons and illustrates life shared with a number of wild troops as well.

A sanctuary for orphaned baboons who are capable of qualitative lives but cannot be fully rehabilitated back into the wild is presently being established at C.A.R.E (Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education) in Phalaborwa, as a result of The Darwin Project.

IMFENE INVESTIGATIONS: imfene@cyberperk.co.za



For hundreds of years, a relentless conflict between humans and baboons has occurred resulting in diminishing troops and ongoing adaptation as human development continues to encroach on the habitats of baboons. The last few decades display a cumulative impact of this ongoing conflict – more and more people are recognizing that it is a problem that needs to be addressed in order to halt the negative effects on the environment.

Because the Chacma relies largely on learned behavior (as opposed to instinct), they are highly adaptable to their changing environment. One way in which they have adapted is that they have learned that an easy and swift method of acquiring filling, nutritional and tasty food is to steal it from human homes within their range. For the opportunistic baboon, this may seem easier than the long hours needed to forage for indigenous vegetation in order to meet nutritional needs . (Taking the multi-faceted psychological make-up of baboons into account, the source of raiding cannot be simply understood without considering a number of different factors, including individuality and the primate need for novelty / difference due to a curious and enquiring mind.) The reaction and retaliation of humans to this, has impacted on diminishing troops, individuals and has caused a ripple effect through troop structures and social dynamics.

As a result of this conflict, more adult males are lost ensuring less protection available to juveniles, family groups and female allies. The important process of genetic mixing is thwarted when transient males (who can spend months alone while between troops) are mistakenly labeled as “rogues” and destroyed.

A troop losing a male will acquire a new leader which leads to disruption of social relationships, infanticide and related trauma. The more often the alpha male is replaced – due to the loss of the former – the more often this disruptive ripple effect occurs effectively breaking down the strength of relationships and groups within the troop.

Although our indigenous Chacma is listed on C.I.T.E.S (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species); appendix 2, it is classified in South Africa as a “problem animal” – a term which may mask the reality of its diminishing numbers and changing status within the environment .

The Chacma is beneficial to the environment for a number of reasons ; two examples are ; they disperse seeds through faeces, ensuring biodiversity and they have a symbiotic relationship with other species in their range (for example, the warning bark does not merely serve to warn the troop but other species like antelope as well).
A number of myths and misunderstandings have arisen throughout the history of the human/baboon conflict, a negative reputation that has served to mistakenly justify a number of crimes towards this primate; widening the gap of understanding and causing escalating fear leading to aggressive conflict situations and shootings.

As the baboon is simultaneously an important part of the eco-system here as well as a neighbor to residents, it is important that we learn to achieve a co-existence through tolerance and education. The long term gain of this would lead to healthier baboon populations, biodiversity, better understanding of baboons and the continuation of an indigenous primate species for future generations and tourism.

It has been identified that human/ baboon conflicts in this area need to be addressed. The following is a proposal suggesting a means of solving both short and long term conflict and it’s impact on the environment.


1. To produce a report outlining a baboon management plan that recognizes that the Chacma may be threatened, explores methods to deter baboons from human habitats and reduces the human/ baboon conflict.
2. To educate the public about baboons and property management – a process that will lead to greater understanding, more compromise and healthier baboon populations.

3. To provide a holistic view of the baboon populations, habitats and human/baboon conflict areas within the study area.

4. To provide detailed data about a core group which will record their social dynamics, diet, relationship to humans, infanticide occurrence etc.


a) The Chacma is integral to the eco-system in South Africa . The seeds of many indigenous plants are spread through their faeces. They also eat certain birds eggs and in so doing, control these bird populations. The baboon also has a symbiotic social relationship with some other species within its range.

b) Free movement of males between troops is necessary for genetic mixing.

c) The Chacma has become a fascinating species to observe for tourists visiting this country and is synonymous with the wilderness of the Cape. Because of its primate relationship to us, it offers valuable insight into many aspects of humanity .


Observation notes.
Detailed data sheets and index profiles of each individual in the study troops.
Photographic records.
Interviews with residents experiencing problems.
Baboon monitor and anti-poaching training whereby much needed jobs can be created. These monitors will be available to help residents and farmers in confronting raiding baboons.



Assessing how many baboon troops are in the area .
Identifying which troops are conflicted with humans .
Identifying range, habitat, diet and recording behavior.
Identifying their sleeping and water sites.
Interviewing residents with baboon problems.


a) Recording data of troop structure – male/female ratio, number of individuals, juveniles, infants, hierarchy etc.
b Observation of complex social behavior between individuals and assessment of human impact (e.g. Electric pylons, road injuries and deaths, stress and related issues.)
c) Recording data on each individual, outlining behavior , disposition, physical condition, status in troop, allies and family if possible etc.


Baboon education through a regular newsletter or newspaper column.
Being available to speak to residents about problem baboons and methods in dealing with them (e.g. Property management, deterrents, behavior).
WEBSITES; http://www.garethpatterson.com (The Baboon sanctuary project)

http://www.art.co.za/kaz/menu.htm (paintings )

At the end of the study period I will provide a report on my findings and offer recommendations. A quarterly project update will also be made available.