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Baboon Dispersal Operation Feedback

Herewith a brief report concerning the Baboon Dispersal Operation, Thursday 4 February 2016 from Stephen Müller, Director: Infrastructure and Planning.

Overstrand Municipality receives an average of four complaints per day from residents in Voëlklip Hermanus, concerning baboon induced damage to property, as well as an overwhelming density of the troop that frequents private properties in certain parts of the suburb. 

During 2014, Overstrand Municipality had to adapt to the prevailing crisis within the South African economy, in order to focus on the provision of basic Municipal services as per the South African Constitution and the Municipal Systems Act. The Overstrand baboon monitoring project was thus removed from the Annual Integrated Development Plan and the annual Budget cycle in 2014. The project was briefly taken over by the Department of Environmental Affairs under the Working for the Coast Programme, but funding for this project was also withdrawn in 2015. Baboons are protected by several international, national and provincial statutes, including the Western Cape Nature Conservation Ordinance. There is however no assistance from any conservation authority or government department, for communities that suffer from baboon raids or to those that reacts in fear to the presence of large troops amongst residential properties. There are various solutions to human - wildlife conflicts, all requiring a substantial, dedicated and sustainable budget. Unfortunately, current circumstances dictate that there are no funds to implement any of the solutions.

Chacma Baboons are an intelligent species that adapt rapidly to a changing environment and perceived threats. It is this attribute that makes them so successful in an urban environment and so difficult to manage. The lack of dedicated and effective baboon monitors creates a general state of discontent amongst pro-baboon activists, persons negatively affected by the presence of baboons and Municipal officials that have to deal with a stream of complaints from both parties, without resources to deal with the problem. The intensity of the complaints from some parties verges on vigilanticism and could result in the death of baboons by poisoning or illegal hunting, both of which will be detrimental to society in general. 

Overstrand Municipality must address the needs of all residents to the best of its ability and to manage the environment in a manner that is safe, secure and of benefit to bio-diverse ecosystems. A balanced approach is - and must - be applied to situations in which the community is affected by the presence of baboons. After several months of repeated complaints, a situation arose where action was warranted. 

On Thursday 4 February 2016 officials from the Law Enforcement Unit as well as the Environmental Protection Section were involved in an operation to disperse baboons in the suburb of Voëlklip, Hermanus. Six Law Enforcement Officers, four Environmental Protection staff and four Coastal Monitors (EPWP programme) were deployed at 10:30 as baboons crossed the urban edge. The majority of the baboon troop was intercepted as they reached 1st Street, but four baboons managed to move as far as 6th street before they were encouraged to move back to the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Staff members were equipped with radios, vehicles, paintball guns and bear bangers (black powder caps) as per the protocol followed in normal baboon monitoring operations.

During the operation, a total of four bear bangers and five paintballs were dispensed. In addition, one smoke canister was discharged after the baboons had left the urban edge. 22 Baboons stayed within the Fernkloof Nature Reserve and 6 individuals were encouraged to leave the residential area. By 11:00 all individuals were within the boundaries of the Nature Reserve. Municipal staff members withdrew at 12:00 as the baboon troop was observed to be moving towards the Mossel River Dams. The troop was observed at the rockfill dam by 12:30.

Prior to the operation, residents were requested to keep sensitive animals indoors. Municipal officials on site received one complaint where dogs were upset by the bear bangers and dislodged curtains from their rails within the residence. A number of queries were lodged with the Overstrand Control room concerning the 'shots' being fired in the suburb. There was furthermore one query from a member of the public that was observing the operation, but no further complaints or comments were received during the contact period.

Overstrand Municipality has applied this intervention in order to bring temporary relief to affected areas in Voëlklip. The intervention can in no way be seen as a sustainable activity as officials have to be withdrawn from their normal duties and budget has to be withdrawn from existing commitments to finance this activity. The activity cannot be repeated frequently under these conditions. It is expected that the baboons will return to Voëlklip within a matter of days or a week.

The question remains then as to how human and wildlife conflict will be managed in future. Pringle Bay is an example where the community has successfully established control over marauding troops, by financing a small community driven monitoring team. Until now however, there has been little support for a community driven project in Voëlklip, and this type of activity is beyond the scope of the Public Private Partnership between the Municipality and Hermanus Public Protection. In the absence of any support from Government agencies, it is therefore unlikely that a baboon monitoring programme will be possible in the Hermanus region in future.

Overstrand will continue to apply for sources of external funding and assess the number of reports received from concerned residents.

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