You think you've got problems. As North American wildlife populations expand into new niches that include suburban backyards, and new housing encroaches farther into wildlands, bears at birdfeeders and deer in the begonias have become increasingly common. But while beavers may flood our manicured lawns and raccoons vie with skunks for our garbage, at least we don't have to contend with resident baboons. Things are getting hairy in the suburbs of Cape Town, as this "fair use" excerpt of a transcript from reporter Steve Curwood's story at Living On Earth reveals:
"CURWOOD: Residents of Welcome Glen enjoy a tranquil village life, with picturesque views of the ocean and the Cape of Good Hope. But on garbage collection days, the streets here can be chaos.
CURWOOD: Chris Schulz rolls out his garden hose.
SCHULZ: We just hose them. They are scared of water. On dirt day they come out and they're a menace.
CURWOOD: Curbside trash bins provide an easy meal. Baboons tip them over to nibble on table scraps.
CURWOOD: With piercing, deep-set eyes, rounded snouts, and wiry gray fur, the animals look like tough guys. A fully-grown male can weigh a hundred pounds. Rob and Elizabeth Venter have a slingshot ready as the troupe moves their way.
R. VENTER: That's "George."
E. VENTER: No it's not "George," it's "Eric."
R. VENTER: Well it's either "George" or "Eric." It's one of the two alpha baboons. They're really big and they attack you. One time one of my friends held up a big stick to it, and "George" grabbed it out of his hand and chased him down the road with the stick.
CURWOOD: Baboons have long foraged in gardens and garbage dumps. But in recent years, animals like "George" have grown more adventurous, seeking supper inside people's homes.
E. VENTER: He's very aggressive. And he came into my back sliding door, and suddenly he was right there on my kitchen counter in front of me. And I just said: "go, go" like that. And he went: "argh" to me.
CURWOOD: Did he hurt you?
E. VENTER: No, I jumped back, then I ran out of the house, and called for help. And a neighbor came in with a shovel and he went out. But it was very, very scary."
As the former surrogate father of a 3 month old Chachma baboon, about the size of the little one riding atop its mother in the photograph at left by Terry FitzPatrick, I can attest to the challenge of living in close proximity to baboons that have become habituated to human environments. Our orphan baboon lived with us for nearly a month during our last year in Namibia, but we couldn't keep her in the house at night because we would not have had a single possession or food item left unpawed if we had done so. She hated sleeping outside (baboons are extremely social creatures) and would hang by her toes from the roof of our little house and punch out the window screens. We finally ended up locking her in the tiny bathroom off the back stoop at night and felt like very bad parents.
She used to eat the thorny seeds that stuck like caltrops in the soles of my sandals, and once killed a scorpion that chose to share our evening campfire. The little heart breaker was closely bonded to me but because Viv gave her food - a sign of subservience in baboon society - she considered herself the alpha female of our little troop, which as you can imagine did not go over very well with my wife. I had to chuck her into the 20 gallon washtub we used as a bath when she bared her fangs and hissed at Viv one afternoon and her response to that water was rather like a cat's. The garden hose method of baboon proofing the neighborhood described in the Living on Earth report might have some limited utility.
One little baboon was more than our household could handle. I can only imagine what a troop of twenty or so might mean for suburban Capetonians. Just as there are ways of living in bear country, there are ways to make one's home less attractive to baboons and to respond when confronted with them. The outlook isn't that great, though, for peaceful coexistence. In the end, either the people will have to go, or the wildlife. South Africa has a shameful history of displacing (non-white) people to make way for game preserves. This time, the chances are better that the wildlife will be forced to give ground.