Farmers vs Wildlife


baboons, living with baboons, harmonious co-existence, karin saks, darwin primate group, farmers,


The DPG works to educate residents on how to co-exist with wildlife. This includes not feeding baboons, monkeys and other wildlife by hand, removing/hiding all attractions from properties where owners are unwilling to co-exist with wildlife harmoniously and adapting human buildings to ensure they are safe from any potential damage caused by wild primates.

 Baboon Woman: Story of a Gentle Power House
By Maggie Sergio for The Huffington Post
May 2012
I heard gunfire as my friend and I walked past a farm on a dirt road about 300 yards from her home.  It was a sunny Tuesday morning on March 26thof this year.  We had ventured out for an early morning walk with her three dogs.  The last thing I expected was to hear gunshots and to witness an assault on wildlife.  Or worse, was this angry farmer looking to send a message to my new friend Karin Saks, aka “Baboon Woman?”
It started as a beautiful morning in the Western Cape of South Africa, in a small town along the Garden Route called “The Crags.”  For those who aren’t familiar with South Africa, The Crags is a stunningly beautiful town, anda popular tourist destination.   The region is surrounded by the Tskitskamma National Park and is home to about a dozen or so small farms, a backpacker’s camp called “Rocky Road,” many charming B n’ B’s,  holiday houses and the Darwin Primate Group (DPG).  The Darwin Primate Group is focused on rehabilitation of orphaned and injured baboons and vervet monkeys.  DPG was founded by a courageous woman named Karin Saks who has been fostering these primates since 1997. Born in South Africa, Karin is a woman who has dedicated her life to the conservation of primates and has successfully rehabilitated and released 35 monkeys and is currently caring for 6 orphan baby baboons.
Karin was featured in the 2009 documentary, “Baboon Woman” and was the subject of the book, “Life with Darwin” written by Fransje Van Riel. The baby primates Karin rehabilitates became orphans due to conflicts with humans; these conflicts are most often a result of a farmer suffering crop damage.   As with other animals that are labeled as “pests” or “nuisance wildlife,” baboons are often shot, snared or poisoned by farmers.   Because snares, poisons and steel leg hold traps do not discriminate, other wildlife and pets are often killed in the process.
My fifth trip to South Africa included delivering a donation check to the Darwin Primate Group from the US based nonprofit, Nikela. Nikela is an emerging wildlife organization that supports a select number of wildlife conservation projects in South Africa.   Knowing that access to US donors is a major hurdle for many conservation projects in South Africa, I have watched with interest and followed their progress and the projects they have supported over the last few years.
Karin Saks’ Darwin Primate Group is one of the first projects that Nikela qualified and took on as a supported project.   Earlier this year, I contacted Nikela, told them of my upcoming trip and asked if there was anything I could do to help while in South Africa.  I was told there was a small donation check for Karin that needed delivery. I agreed to carry and present the check to Karin, plus have some photos taken of the event.
Thrilled to be carrying out such a fun request, I decided to make things interesting by seeing if I could double the amount of the original donation from $1500 to $3000.  In about a month’s time, using the ubiquitous tools of social networking, combined with personal appeals to friends and family, Nikela and I achieved our goal of doubling the donation check I would be delivering to Karin.
I also decided to volunteer at DPG to learn more about the incredible work that Karin does.  In getting to know Karin I discovered a very centered and gentle powerhouse.   Baboons are the most persecuted species in South Africa and Karin is not popular with her neighbors because she cares for these injured and orphaned animals considered to be pests.  The laws are conflicting regarding their protection and it is perfectly acceptable to shoot baboons.   While the local police will say it is not.  I found in Karin, a woman that crossed the species barrier in her knowledge of primates and in her ability to communicate with them.  Prior to returning an orphaned baby back to the wild, Karin must first be accepted as a member of a wild baboon troop before she can introduce a youngster to the group.  Karin has been spent years observing and understanding the body language and behavior of baboons.   As a result of her work she has become an expert in how to solve conflicts non-lethally and coexist.
In a former role, I served as the Director of Advocacy and Wildlife Solutions for WildCare in San Rafael, CA.  For three years my work was focused on solving human-wildlife conflicts, and educating the public about how to resolve those problems non-lethally, and for the long term. Witnessing Karin’s work I observed how similar the challenges are for wildlife around the world.   Karin cares for baby primates because their parents are often killed by farmers whose properties often border on wildlife areas.
Along the Garden Route it is the Tskikamma National Park. Animals are always in search of food, whether the source is natural or the result of human agriculture.  Food sources for wildlife can be either livestock or crops.  If food sources are left unprotected, conflicts will ensue.  When animals opportunistically take advantage of the easy meals provided by agriculture, they are often shot, poisoned or snared in an attempt to control the damage.  However, these methods are retaliatory and work only for the short term.  As soon as an animal is removed from a territory, whether by death or relocation, a space is opened up for another animal to fill, as long as the original source or attractant is still readily available.   If a mother is killed orphan babies are left behind to starve or be preyed on by other animals.
The common denominator of these wildlife conflicts globally is that humans are providing easy access to a food source when we don’t take adequate measures to protect our crops or livestock.  What varies is the species of wildlife that is killed.   In South Africa it is considered perfectly acceptable for a farmer to shoot baboons, vervet monkeys, jackal, and other species.  Here in the US, persecuted species include wolves, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, and thousands of songbirds killed by agriculture every year. Most of the killing in the US is either endorsed, or perpetrated, by our own government, for the benefit of private landowners.  Thisexplosive three part story in the Sacramento Bee is the result of an investigation by journalist Tom Knudson of USDA Wildlife Services.  In South Africa, many farmers simply take matters into their own hands. In all these scenarios, the victims are the animals who know no borders and move easily between wild areas and cultivated areas.
Circling back to gunshots I heard earlier. My month long visit to the Garden Route was drawing to a close, and as we walked along the dirt road that leads to Karin’s home and the primate rehab center she founded, I noticed a man about a hundred yards away waving something that could have been a stick or a golf club.  From a distance it was hard to tell. Seconds later, both Karin and I noticed a wild baboon easily hoping over the small, makeshift fence that surrounds this farmer’s property.   The debilitated fence was about 2 feet in height and we both immediately became concerned for the safety of this animal.
Immediately after the shots were fired; we heard hysterical screams and cries from the baboons and watched as several of them fled over the fence in terror.  The only crime that these animals committed was foraging for food.  The food source that attracted the baboons was made easily available to them by humans and placed out in the open.  This farmer had planted a crop of tomatoes and avocadoes and took no measures to protect his crops from wildlife, despite the fact that his farm is surrounded by wilderness.  Rather than investing in adequate fencing, this farmer, like most deals with the problem by shooting the offending animals.
Being in such close proximity to gunfire was unsettling.  I was in a popular tourist area with a backpacker’s facility just down the road, and here we were out for a morning stroll, on a country road, with a couple of dogs.   Because of her work caring for baboons it is rumored that the local farmers “have meetings about Karin.” I couldn’t help but wonder if the gunshots fired that morning as we passed were meant to send a message or not.   Regardless of the intent, Karin’s courage and commitment is unwavering as she works day to day caring for the orphans and victims of agriculture and human encroachment.  She has just been notified that the 17 hectare property that she has been leasing for the last 7 years is now up for sale.  An international effort is now underway to assist DPG to either purchase this land or another suitable location that has just become available in the area.

A Glimpse into the Plight of The Persecuted Baboon and Monkey Populations in South Africa



Comments on the Primate Populations in the Western Cape

Karin Saks

The following comments are based on my experience as someone who works towards co-existence between residents, the Vervet Monkey and Chacma Baboon in The Crags/Plettenberg Bay/Knysna area.

The vervet monkey and chacma baboon are listed on the hunting list based on the assumption that these populations are plentiful; it is widely believed that they are commonly seen and are therefore healthy.

This view does not take the damage done to troop structures into consideration but regards these highly social species in terms of numbers only, without any regard to the dependance they have on a healthy social system. Except for the Cape Peninsula, these populations are not monitored and assumptions are made on outdated data.

As the chacma baboon and vervet monkey are not considered to be venison, their presence on the hunting list needs to be questioned. My experience with wild baboons has shown that they are not born with a fear of humans but learn this from their elders who have developed a fear through interacting with humans. Humans are not considered to be natural predators to wild primates and because of the fact that we share primate genes, they are prone to getting close to humans when sharing a territory. This makes them highly vulnerable to being hunted at close range and is a factor that illustrates that shooting a baboon or monkey is devoid of any sport that could be beneficial to the hunter.

Considering these observations, the question remains: why are the vervet monkey and chacma baboon listed on the hunting proclamation at all?

Is this a legal loophole that makes provision to allow the persecution of these species as “problem animals” and if so how does that interfere with their classification as “protected” species under CITES?

“So heart broken this morning – our precious little Lilly, who was so abused by village people died last night. We did everything we could to save her. I really hate those people, may God forgive me for that feeling, but at this stage, I am so angry, so very angry!!!” K. Hickley – caretaker


It must have happened about a month ago: Doug, a five year old male in the wild troop went missing. Our search led to a tragic conclusion: he'd allegedly been lured into a cage, then stabbed to death with a stick. His corpse was then prepared to be eaten. RIP my beautiful friend......... Photo of Doug by Anna Wood


Feb 2013 Doug who was brutally killed by a farm worker in June.
After we trapped a severely injured wild troop member in February, Doug visited daily to check on his close friend while we healed him.

In a wild primate troop a cohesive,social system is necessary to the healthy working of the whole group. When thisfragile system is disrupted, it impacts not only on members within the group but all symbiotic relationships within the environment.

Robert Sapolsky – neurologist and primatologist – who has done extensive research into the effects of stress on baboons in Kenya, claims that; “the blood levels of cortisol (also known as hydrocortisone), one of the hormones most reliably secreted during stress, rose significantly” amongst a troop of baboons, when a new male baboon moved into the troop.  At the same time, “their numbers of white bloodcells, or lymphocytes, the centinel cells of the immune system that defend thebody against infections, declined markedly, another highly reliable index ofstress.” He also found that high levels of stress amongst transfer males hadcompromised their immune systems, leaving them unusually vulnerable toparasites and other diseases.(The Trouble with Testosterone by Robert Sapolsky,p81, 85)

We can deduce from these observations that when humans interfere with troop structures by eliminating a male leader for example, this results in a higher turnover of alpha males which in turn leads to turbulent troop relationships and a break down in social dynamics. High levels of stress at a consisent level brought about by humans shooting key individuals that are integral to familial or friendship groups within the framework of a highly complex primate social system, will impact negatively on the group’s ability to function as a healthy cohesive whole.

We can also deduce from this that an unhealthy primate troop will impact negatively on all related systems and would therefore not be contributing to a healthy bio-diversity.

CARINACarina Cunningham Webber – a vervet monkey sanctuary owner – with a wild vervet troop who were all killed without challenge by a resident in her area.

The three areas most commonly targeted that interfere with the natural processes necessary for troop cohesion are:

 1. Dispersing male monkeys and baboons are often targeted by residents


  1. Alpha male, wrongly believed to be the sole decision maker in the troop is shot for acting on behalf of the whole group.


  1.  Because of the demand of vervet monkey babies in the pet industry, adult female monkeys are often shot.

Due to the fragile, cohesive social system necessary for healthy troop structures, the above practices not only cause disruption to thegroup but also have a permanent effect on future generations.

Vervet Monkey populations between Mossel Bay and Stormsriver appear to be damaged. Residents report the disappearance of whole troops. It is no longer common to sight these animals and troops – more oftenthan not – contain too few individuals (often under five). With fewer troopsaround, dispersing males have further to travel, at great risk, to find newtroops to move into.

Baboon troops often exhibit an unhealthy skew in the adult male to female ratio as males are most often targeted by humans.


Following the wild baboon troop with Matt...

Above: Karin following the resident wild troop with Matt in the foreground. Matt was allegedly shot towards the end of August 2013 by a Crags resident.



GarethPatterson –

“Some field observations on Vervet monkey status and distribution within thestudy area of the Knysna elephant research project 2001 – 2009.

Area of Observations.The approximate range of Knysna elephants is an 620 square kilometre area comprising of Afromontane forest, mountain fynbos, forest edge and commercial plantations. Observations were undertaken mostly on foot while gathering elephant diet and DNA samples, and while gathering data on the range of the elephants. Duration May 2001 to September 2009.

Vervet monkeys were seen infrequently during the entire study period,despite thousand’s of kilometres undertaken on foot during the above timeframe.

Afromontane forest.Vervet monkeys were very rarely seen within the forests itself.When occasionally seen, comprise of small troops of approximately 7- 10 individuals. Occasionally transient males would be seen from time to time on the Knysna -Uniondale road south of Diepwalle.

Mountain fynbos.Vervet monkeys very rarely seen in mountain fynbos.

Forest edge.Vervet troops were seen mostly in forest edge areas, particulary in areas where streams occur. Sightings were not frequent though. Troop size on average would approximately 7 – 10.

Commercial plantations.Vervet troops were very rarely seen in these areas.

During deployment of remote camera’s 2007 – 2009 bushbuck and bushpig were fairly frequently photographed. Honey-badger have been photographed occasionally.Caracal have been photographed twice so far this year.During 2007 – 2009 only once have vervet monkey been photographed,one individual, a transient male (September 2009). This occurred close to the forest edge.

While undertaking the Knysna elephant research project I was surprised how infrequently vervet monkeys were sighted. Also of concern was the small troop size.

Recommendation. Research urgently needs to be undertaken on the status, distribution and genetic diversity (and degree of relatedness) of vervet monkeys in this portion of the Western Cape.”

Didi was orphaned in 2007 when a resident killed his mother near Knysna.
Didi was orphaned in 2007 when a resident killed his mother near Knysna.
Didi – Darwin Primate Group Monkey Shot by Crags Resident – Nov 2012:
“One day, hopefully in the near future, I will tell you the whole story about this particular blog post. Right now, my hands are tied, my voice silenced and the threats continue.11th November - RIP Didi...
All I can say is that someone shot my very first orphan baby, vervet monkey on the 11th of November, and I am unable to speak out right now because of their threats. The killer – a “religious” man who lives in the same road –  did it intentionally, knowing I’d spent days searching for Didi. Having the choice to call me to get him back to his territory, knowing I was searching for him, they chose instead to kill.”
To read the history behind Karin’s challenges with Crags residents:

The Integral Role of the Transient Male in Monkey and Baboon Troops:

As mentioned before, these males transfer into new groups to ensure genetic mixing while the females stay in their birth troops for life,ensuring a strong female bonded social core.

a) The myth of the Rogue Male:

Often it is single males that get shot by residents. With every case that I have been called on to investigate in this area, the single male baboon or monkey that has been “raiding’ human foods, has proved to be a dispersing male – usually at the age of puberty and leaving the troop for the very first time – making his way into a new troop. These males are most  to be “old rogue males kicked out of the troop”. In fact, it is rare to see an old male baboon or monkey in this area for few reach old age anymore.

Male vervet monkeys and baboons move from their birth troops (about five times in their lifetimes) into new troops. When these malesare shot as is often the case, this necessary natural process is prevented withthe consequences being long term negative effects on the fragile social system needed for a healthy primate troop.

In turn, this negatively affects other systems that they have a symbiotic relationship with; including their relationship to humans and the territory we often share.

b) The Perspective of the Transient Male:

Our biggest mistake in understanding the way in which we contribute to the dysfunction of healthy troop structures is to assume that only the physical impact matters. To ignore the complex psychological components necessary for wild primate species that are based on social relationships, is to deny a crucial element that is integral to a healthy bio-diversity.

Pubescent primate males dispersing into new troops do notonly face a temporary time of physical challenge but also one of psychological challenge; for pubescent males, these necessary lessons bring a physical and psychological strength that is not only needed for theindividual but the whole troop in the future.

These young males, having left the protection and guidance of their birth group are tested for the first time in many ways.Without the protection of the group, they are exposed to predators and other difficult elements of the wilderness. Not only are they at risk from predatorsbut their new troop is likely to be hostile until the individual has formedbonds – this can take a few months. Sometimes these males are not accepted at all.

With all the added unnatural risks these males face due to human intervention, they sometimesironically seek protection in human areas where they have been led to believe they may find it due to humans feeding them by hand.

If you consider the monkey troops that have apparentlybeen wiped out in The Crags area (as residents views suggest), this means that dispersing male monkeys are forced to wander abnormally far distances to find another troop, hence risks are increased. These males therefore find themselves trying to survive in unknown territories with strange predators and the challenge of finding new food sources that they had previously relied on the troop to help them with. Sometimes, when life gets this tough for the male that has been forced to wander unnaturally long distances, he will seek protectionin human areas, deluded by that fact that humans are friendly when they invitethese animals in by feeding them. Human areas full of abundant unnatural food sources that also have a scarcity of threatening predators are an obvious attraction for wild primates suffering undue risks. But as these primates have a strong understanding of territorial boundaries, it is the mixed messages that humans themselves give that allow these species to assume they are welcome.

In the CapePeninsula, dispersing male baboons are unable to reach new troops as development has cut them off from doing so.

Dispersing males are alone; without grooming partners that contribute to their physical and mental health that generally keep parasite infestation at bay.

Robert Sapolsky –primatologist and neurologist observed that during this period, the accumulated stress in transient males contributes to parasite infestation as the immune system becomes relatively weak. Once the individual joins a group, his health balances out again.

This once again illustrates how fragile a period this isfor dispersing males.

As the male is left without troop guidance, he may resort to the temptation of new food sources and enter onto human properties where hewill at first be respectful of the territorial boundaries but once invited in,will push those boundaries and attempt to raid. Puberty is a time ofexploration and learning for these young males who have yet to grasp the fullmaturity needed when adult. As sub-adults, they are also more likely to benaïve about the dangers, humans present.

Residents need to practice consistency in their approachto demonstrate that it is unacceptable for wild primates to enter theirproperties. It also helps to have baboon/monkey proof homes and to ensure thatno attractions – especially garbage – are on display.

In time, with the resident’s patience, tolerance andunderstanding, the transient male will move on into his new group and if he haslearnt worthwhile lessons (not to push territorial boundaries) from his humanneighbors, he will carry these lessons with him. In this way residents cancontribute to the future of healthy monkey and baboon troops.

At present, however, the Hunting Proclamation which allows landowners to shoot two monkeys/baboons a day all year round actively encourages the persecution of these species and therefore contributes to misconceptions and the continuous destruction of troop structures that negatively affects bio-diversity.


 The HuntingProclamation gives residents the message that persecuting the Vervet monkey andChacma baboon is not only acceptable but encouraged by the authorities, henceshowing a disregard for the role these species play within the environment.

 Shootingthe Alpha Male to deter the troop from Raiding:

 Shooting the alpha male does not deter the troop from raiding as has been proved many times in the past. Instead, a new male is likely to move into the troop, kill all the infants and spend many monthsworking out new relationships that bring turbulence and social disruption. When these alpha males are repeatedly killed and replaced, this process occurs moreoften than is natural and has far reaching traumatic consequences for membersin the group. New males that move in from outside the troop do not necessarilybring new lessons but may well follow the lead of the troop, hence the groupwill continue to raid. The most influential males in a troop do not makedecisions on behalf of the whole troop alone, but act according to the will of troop members.

With so many male baboons being targeted the result is an unhealthy skew in the adult male to female ratio which in turn causes socialbehaviour changes.

Bad WasteManagement is One of the Main Reasons Wildlife is Attracted to Human Areas:

TheTargeting of Adult Female Monkeys: Because the Hunting Proclamation actively allows thepersecution of baboons and monkeys, the message given to people is that thesespecies do not matter. As a result widespread abuse occurs. It is difficult to monitor the growing demand for vervet monkey baby pets for example.

During the birth season which occurs just before Christmas, copious amounts of adult female monkeys are shot so that their babies can be taken and sold. The Vervet is a female bonded species based on anumber of matrilines. Females stay in their troop for the duration of theirlives; it is the females who have the most knowledge about food sources andpredators within the territory. This information is passed on from onegeneration to the next. These individuals are therefore integral to the knowledge and social health of the troop.

Again, shooting individuals in a monkey troop causes dysfunctional social systems that impact on the troop members and future generations.

The above examples illustrate to some small extent how the Hunting Proclamation actively destroys wild primate social structures and contributes to a decline in numbers.

 Hundredsof Baboons and Monkeys are held in Rehabilitation Centres without Safe Habitats to Release them into:

Thereare a number of vervet monkey rescue centres in KZN; Although these centres see a fraction of the amount of monkeys that require rescue, an average month reveals that up to seventy monkeys will die at the most prolific monkey rescue centre in KZN.

 The amount of monkeys and baboons injured and killed by humans cannot be underestimated.

These primates are certainly the victims of legislation that actively encourages thepersecution of these species and perpetuates the myths about them.

 It takes quite a few years to rehabilitate these troops – the biggest problem once rehabilitated, is that there are too few safe habitats to release them into.

  Protective legislation that is actively and strongly enforced would bring a solution to this problem.

 Widespread Abuse of The Hunting Proclamation:

Experience has shown me that the Hunting Proclamation isbeing abused in a number of ways: many landowners tend to turn a blind eye whentheir workers, firstly lure onto the property, then snare or shoot, wild species. In an area wracked by poverty, workers lure wild animals by intentionallyleaving food sources around, whether it be open garbage bins, compost heaps, horse food or other food. This works in the landowner’s best economical interests when the property is a cattle farm or polo field for example.

Workers have shown that they lure and kill bushbuck, bushpigs, baboons and monkeys to eat in this area.

It is unrealistic to expect that landowners will act responsibly in the best interests of the environment when it is easier to kill and  support personal financial interests. It is equally irresponsible to assume that residents are in a position to make informed decisions about what constitutes a“problem animal” when this perception is usually distorted by unnecessary fear,ignorance of wild primate behaviour and misconceptions supported by legislationsuch as the Hunting Proclamation.

 These cases need physical investigation and should be done by those who have the environment/bio-diversity’s best interests at heart.

 Listingthe Vervet Monkey and Chacma Baboon on a Hunting List:

Neither of these primate species can be considered for sport/recreational hunting as their close proximity to humans makes shootingthem akin to canned hunting.

Furthermore, asthese wild primates are not generally considered edible and are geneticallyclose to us, it is entirely nonsensical that they be listed on a hunting list.

Taking these factors into account, it becomes quite clearthat the vervet monkey and chacma baboon are listed on a hunting list, andallowed to be killed at two a day, all year round, because it is desired that they be eradicated.

In this light their so called “protected” status under theNature Conservation Ordinance, Ordinance 19 of 1974 is redundant.

In practice, I have witnessed that the vervet monkey and chacma baboon are offered little – if any –  protection and that the Hunting Proclamation is allowed to be abused and used to the detriment of our wild primate populations.


Obstacles to the Rehabilitation of Vervet Monkeys and Baboons:


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Melanie Sammons says:

    We still don’t know how to get monkeys and baboons included in the TOPS list. Does anyone know? We need to do what it takes to make this happen.

  2. Sharon Pradhan says:

    I’m disgusted by the people who killed those baboons and monkeys! Barbaric uncivilised sick, sick subhuman dumb people! I for one will boycott that area! Go back to the dark ages and get yourselves some brains.

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