Why are baboons so unpopular in South Africa?
I asked myself this question serveral times. In contrast to whales or elephants, baboons have a rather bad reputation among South Africans.
However, which baboon lives in South Africa?
In South Africa lives the chacma baboon (Papio ursinus). This baboon belongs to the old-world monkeys (Africa, Asia, Europe). There is still a discussion among scientists about how many baboon species exists. Probably there are five species. Among them is the chacma baboon, but also the Hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas), the Guinea baboon (Papio papio), the olive baboon (Papio anubis), and the yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus). (Resourses: Wikipedia)
Among the chacma baboons there are probably three subspecies with one supspecies (Papio ursinus ursinus) living at the Cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa.
These animals reach a size of about 50 to 114 centimeters. Males weight with 21-44 kilograms more than females with 12-17 kilograms.
The chacma baboon is a very social animal that lives mostly in groups of about 20 to 50 animals. Sometimes even with up to 130 animals.
However, I spotted several baboon groups while in South Africa. But no group reached that size.
Baboon groups follow a strict hierarchy. That means a dominant alpha-male is at the top of each group. Younger and lower-ranking males follow in the hierarchy. Females rank lower than males, but there is also a hierarchy among the females. Thus, there are higher and lower ranking females in a baboon group. All offspring, which were sired by the alpha-male, are at the bottom of the hierarchy.
I met several times South Africans who warned against baboons.
I spotted a small group of baboons that was resting on the grass.
Of course I was happy to see them.
I think others could see that in my face as a South African warned me in that moment with:
„Just be careful please!“
I did not intend to sit myself beside the group, but I was just happy to see a group of these animals when I was not in a car.
However, I can understand South Africans why they are cautious with respect to the baboons.
I researched in the internet and found in the German news articles like:
Is that panicmongering and distributing headlines against baboons?
The titles of these articles indicate that.
However, I do not want to judge about something where I just know too little.
But nevertheless, I observed South Africans with respect and a little bit of fear when it comes to chacma baboons and many of them do not leave their cars when close to baboons.
When I was in the Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve our tour guide opened the windows for a short moment, but when he did he was watching kind of nervously to the right and to the left. When he closed the windows again he appeared relieved to me.
During my three-month stay in South Africa nothing happened to me with respect to the baboons. But this does not mean that nothing happens!
If you visit South Africa you just have to follow some rules. The most important rule is:
Do not feed the baboons!
Firstly, you should not habituate wild baboons to food they get easily from tourists as they will lose their natural behavior looking for food on their own.
Secondly, some food items of visitors in the Cape Point Nature Reserve could be unhealthy for the baboons.
And thirdly, tourists tend to provide food rather to cute babies than to the alpha males. This is a big problem. As baboon groups follow a strict hierarchy you disturb their social interactions. Usually the alpha-male feeds first and not the babies. If an alpha male sees a baby feeding first before him, this could lead to punishment for the baby.
On the website of the Cape Point Nature Reserve they strongly emphasize not to feed baboons.
If you see baboons in the Cape Point Nature Reserve:
– Do not leave the car.
– Hide your food if you have something to eat nearby you.
– Do not intervene when you see baboons fighting.
But not only baboons, in general you should not feed any wild animal.
That there are such problems with baboons at the Cape Point Nature Reserve is also because of the tourists that feed them. Tourists provide food to the baboons and they get accustomed to it and want more and more food. Therefore, many baboons become a “problem” for humans (caused by humans) and are shot.
If you want to do something good for baboons in South Africa, don’t feed them!