Permission to hunt baboons

Baboons living on the western edge of the wine farms are the Constantia 1 and 2 troops and the Mountain Troop.

CapeNature has issued Constantia Valley wine farms with hunting permits to kill up to two baboons a day.

The Bulletin, the Sentinel’s sister paper, first heard about this from a source, who did not want to be named. The source said the wine farms had applied for the permits after learning at a meeting last year that the baboons weren’t protected and could be hunted.

The source said a professional hunter was shooting baboons at their sleep site, in trees, and that several animals – including those with collars – had already disappeared and that the animals had been driven into urban areas, where they were getting attacked by dogs, shot with pellet guns and poisoned.

Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachtingwinefarmsconfirmed they had been granted the hunting permits. Klein Constantia has hired a professional hunter.

CapeNaturespokeswoman Marietjie Engelbrecht said it was the first time the Constantia wine farmers had been issued hunting permits for baboons and only as a last resort.

“The applicants could prove that they have implemented multiple non-lethal mitigation measures over a number of years to try and prevent the continued damage to vineyards and infrastructure without success. And they have experienced extensive losses,” she said.

The permits, with a bag limit of two baboons a day, are valid from October 2017 to October 2018, suggesting the hunting has been happening for at least nine months.

However, Cape of Good Hope SPCA spokeswoman, Belinda Abrahams, said the first she had heard about the permits was when the Bulletin phoned her for comment this week. And, she said, the SPCA did not approve of it.

The SPCA and CapeNature are part of the Baboon Technical Team (BTT) that oversees baboon management in the Cape Peninsula, but Ms Abrahams’s comments suggest CapeNature never brought up the issue of the hunting permits, at least not at the meetings where the SPCA was present.

Table Mountain National Park (SANParks), UCT’s baboon research unit, civic organisations and the South African Navy are also part of the BTT and meet monthly with Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS), the contractor, which with its 63 rangers, handles the day-to-day management of 11 of Cape Peninsula’s 17 baboon troops.

John Green, who represents the Zwaanswyk and Tokai residents on the BTT, said baboon management on the wine estates fell outside the City’s mandate.

Brett Herron, Mayco member for transport and urban development, confirmed that HWS’s role did not extend to the wine farms.

Hout Bay resident Professor Justin O’Riain, director of UCT’s Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa, said the City was spending more than R12 million a year, about R25 000 per baboon, on non-lethal methods to prevent conflict between baboons and humans on the Cape Peninsula. And the wine farmers say they have also spent a lot of money on non-lethal methods that have largely failed.

Buitenverwachting’s owner, Lars Maack, said he had applied for a hunting licence last year, as a last resort, after putting up specialised electrified game fences and building foundations to stop baboons climbing or digging their way onto the farm.

The farm also had a team of three permanent baboon monitors – trained by HWS to use paintball guns – patrolling its boundaries

“The aim is to push them back into their habitat without causing them harm,” he said.

“The losses to our crop are still substantial, but I don’t intend using the permit for the purpose of protecting our crop. The reason for my application is to have a legal framework to protect my staff, residents and our animals.

“We’ve had some horrific and repeated attacks on our dogs and other animals, and my staff are spooked by some aggressive raiders that repeatedly hit our homes.

“As much as we work in conjunction with HWS, unfortunately, they are not mandated by the City to protect farmland,” said Mr Maack.

Klein Constantia vineyard manager Craig Harris said they employed three baboon monitors who worked seven days a week. The cost for monitors, paintball guns and gas was about R430 000 a year.

They had also tried a virtual fence, or landscape of fear, that acted like a territorial boundary in the mind of a target animal. It had cost them R25 000 but had had little success.

He said apart from destroying vines through eating and play, the baboons were also partial to thatch on the farm’s historic buildings.

The farm had locked bins away, used bear bangers and noise aversion, but the baboons still raided and caused damage on the farm and surrounding properties.

The farm had also changed the cover crop between vineyard rows near to the fence to bitter lupins, but that hadn’t worked.

They retrofitted the stable roof with electric strands to stop the baboons from getting in and eating the horses’ fodder.

Driving along the Buitenverwachting boundary, Mr Harris said the two farms worked with HWS to keep baboons on the mountain-side of the electric fence, but trees falling on the fence made maintaining it hard, and an electric shock did not deter hungry baboons.

According to a City report, the baboon population on the peninsula, including the Tokai and Zwaanswyk troops, has climbed from 179 in 2012 to 253 in 2017.

There were two reports, on the Baboon Matters Facebook page, of baboon deaths in Constantia valley in the past week: one clubbed to death by a resident; another mauled by a dog. The SPCA was only able to confirm the latter incident at the time of going to press.

Baboons feed on barley through the winter, fresh shoots in spring, grapes in early summer, and finally, raisins and waste grapes in the late summer.

Mr Harris said the professional hunter hired by the farm acts as as predator and goes for the sick, injured or older baboons, but he refused to say how many baboons had been killed so far, and instead referred the Bulletin to CapeNature.

Ms Engelbrecht said according to the hunting register seven baboons had been killed since the permits were issued and the bodies were buried.

Professor O’Riain said baboon numbers had increased by 36% since they had first been counted in 1998.

He said the hunting permits had been discussed in many meetings that had included civic representatives from the Constantia/Tokai region.

“All farmers in the Western Cape may apply to CapeNature for a permit to kill wildlife that damage their property and adversely impact on their livelihoods,” he said.

Mr Harris said Klein Constantia did not like the present situation but had been forced into a corner.

“Baboons should be on the mountain, but instead they raid the farms and are healthy and multiplying. The more of them there are the more food they need.”

CapeNature said the permit conditions do not allow night hunting and no collared baboons were shot.