We often get telephone calls about problem baboons or monkeys harrassing people. Unfortunately by this time, these clever primates have already realised that there is easy food to be found around humans. They will not change. The only way to over-come the problem is to make changes to the way you live. Implementing good baboon management protocols before the problem starts, is even a better way to live in areas where baboons occur. Baboons in the Western Cape forage on over 100 different species of fynbos . Human food is full of calories and easily digestible relative to fynbos making it very attractive to baboons. Feeding baboons leads to human-wildlife conflict and ultimately problem baboons are killed.
Understanding the Urban Baboon
Humans have encroached on natural areas as towns expand. With urban sprawl comes animal conflict as the latter are displaced and make for uneasy neighbours. Baboons are resourceful and when they come across houses and properties where the food is easily available (lying on tables, displayed in kitchen windows, spread out on picnic benches, growing in vegetable gardens, stuffed into dustbins), they will feed on this feast and be back for more. Problem baboons are the direct result of how we live.
Baboon troops that live close to urban areas have fewer adult males than undisturbed troops. The lack of natural predators suggests that the males are being killed as a result of direct conflict with humans. Lone dispersing males are automatically and incorrectly classified as “rogues” and are treated as a threat to humans. It is important to realise that lone males reflect the natural movement of the males between troops which is nature’s way of preventing inbreeding, as males do not mate with their mothers, sisters or aunts. Dispersing males are naturally more vulnerable at this time as they do not have the protection of the troop, and they can become unwelcome tenants if they gain access to food.
Killing males within troops has much wider implications for it opens the door for new males to be accepted into the troop which is typically made up of related females and their offspring with the current dominant Alpha Male. When this happens, the new male typically kills the previous male’s offspring. One study of an urban troop reported that 53% of all infants born, died within their first year. It was suspected that most of these deaths were due to infanticide. The males engage in this shocking behaviour because without the cost of nursing an infant, females quickly come into estrus and he is thus able to mate with her sooner than had she raised her infant.
Baboons are highly intelligent, adaptable wild animals. They learn quickly and many residents feel that they are under siege when troops invade their living space.
Baboons have learnt to associate humans with food. Baboons know that human-derived food means that they do not have to spend hours foraging to obtain the nutrition they need. Therefore, the underlying principle is to make sure that what ever you do, you prevent baboons from having easy access to human-derived food.
In addressing a baboon problem on your property, identify what is attracting the baboons. This can be food, water or garbage, or a combination. Take action to remove the source, or at least make it a lot harder for the baboon to get to what is attracting them in the first place. Then look at ways of deterring baboons from your property.
Make your property less attractive to baboons by:
- Keep rubbish secure in a baboon-proof dustbin.
- Practice good waste management
- Compost should be contained in composting bins.
- Do not leave dog food outside.
- By planting fruit trees and vegetable gardens, you will be attracting baboons.
- Do not feed wild birds or porcupines as these grains will attract baboons onto your property
- Baboon-proof your home – make sure burgular bars are not wider than 8cm apart and watch out for cat-traps as they provide easy access into the home.
- Do not leave food on display in your home (eg fruit bowls on a window sill).
- If you want to discourage baboons from your garden, turn the water hose on them, they hate water.
What to do when a baboon is in your home
- Firstly remain calm, and do not block their exit route. Baboons can read human body language and if you appear threatening, they will be nervous and unpredictable. Do not stare at them or look them directly in the eyes as this will be interpreted as aggressive behaviour and they make react similarly.
- Make sure that they have an obvious escape route – open windows and doors.
- Act with confidence (be the alpha male) and show them you are serious about getting them out your space
- Do not try to get food back from a baboon, it will fight you to retain the food
- Work towards getting the baboon towards the shortest escape route.
- Encourage the baboon towards the escape route with a water spray bottle.