Dogs and Baboons – The Importance of Cultivating Friendly Relationships with your Neighbours

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BABOONS AND DOGS – DOGS ATTACK, BABOONS DEFEND 

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING FRIENDLY RELATIONS WITH OUR NEIGHBOURS – BOTH HUMAN AND NON-HUMAN

For years I’ve lived harmoniously with dogs, cats, monkeys and baboons. I’ve shared my “territory” with six different raiding baboon troops in various parts of South Africa forcing me to find ways to live in peace with these animals while finding the peace of mind needed to know the dogs and cats that lived with me would be safe.

The wild resident baboon troops have always shown respect for the animals that live with me, including the free-roaming rescued,  vervet monkeys that lived in the forest around my home. The video at the end of this post shows how three different primate species lived peacefully together. This is merely one example taken from a time in my life when I was rehabilitating injured and orphaned vervet monkeys.

I’m no different to anyone else; I love the dogs, cats and monkeys in my care and the idea of a baboon attacking any of them is abhorrent.
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One day when the wild resident baboon troop arrived, this adult female looked at me, then presented (a friendly and respectful gesture in this context) to my cat.

BABOONS/MONKEY RELY ON RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIPS – WITHIN THE TROOP AS WELL AS WITH THEIR HUMAN AND NON-HUMAN NEIGHBOURS:

If you’re concerned about the animals in your care, it is important to show respect for the baboons and/or monkeys that wander onto your property so that they will offer you the same behaviour. This certainly does not mean allowing them to cross boundaries; we can show them they are not welcome to take our food while showing them that we can be trusted not to harm them.

THE BABOONS/MONKEYS AROUND YOUR HOME ASSOCIATE THE ANIMALS IN YOUR CARE WITH YOU.

Be aware that a wild primate troop in the area has established a relationship with you over time – whether you are conscious of this or not – and the animals associated with you.

Baboons are generally exceptionally tolerant of dogs chasing them and may even play with them. However, they discern between dogs that chase for harmless reasons and dogs that are a serious threat to the members of the troop – particularly the babies.

Sometimes residents have dogs that are particularly vicious towards intruders – it may be the breed or the manner in which the dog was trained and this could create a problem with baboons whereby the baboons are forced to defend themselves against your dog, but this is not the only reason for dogs being attacked. The first question I ask when a resident tells me their dog was attacked by a baboon is: what is your relationship with the baboons – have you ever killed a baby or other troop member?

Your attitude towards the wild resident baboon troop that enters your property may be the reason behind the baboons attacking your dog.037

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The juveniles in the wild troop were particularly interested in forming friendships with my cats. 

 

BUT WON’T A BABOON GET VENGEFUL IF I CHASE THE TROOP AWAY FROM MY VEGETABLE GARDEN?

NO.

Baboon/monkey troops understand your need to protect your property. If you shoot one of their troop members while chasing them away from your vegetable garden, you may well create a problem in your relationship with them but if you adopt non-lethal deterrents, this will be understood and accepted.

HOW CAN I SHOW THE BABOONS I RESPECT THEM WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY SHOWING THAT THEY MAY NOT RAID MY PROPERTY?

    ADOPT NON-LETHAL METHODS TO LIVE IN HARMONY WITH BABOONS/MONKEYS. Methods on how to live peacefully can be found on this site and are looked at in our video presentation above.
  1. TRAIN YOUR DOG NOT TO CHASE THEM: Some dogs are difficult to train and may not listen but the fact that YOU are showing them that you don’t approve of your dog chasing them shows them you care about their welfare.As mentioned previously, baboons are exceptionally tolerant of dogs chasing them generally but when forced to defend themselves against attack, the interaction may turn violent.

The goal is to establish a friendly relationship with your wild primate neighbours while consistently making sure they know they can’t take food from your property in a way that does not threaten their lives.

Because we live in a human world, we rarely get to see the extent that wild animals are killed by dogs:
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Monkey killed by dogs

BABOONS AND DOGS – WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT BABOONS

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Given that no other animal on earth (besides humans) drinks milk after being weaned, it is bizarre that farmers complain of baboons stealing milk from dairy cows. More and more humans are accepting that milk is an unnatural food source that is often the cause of allergies. Why would a wild primate want milk from a domestic cow?  

 

“Unlike dogs and cats, baboons are not natural carnivores and they do not have adaptations for hunting and eating meat.” Those of us who live in the world of wild primates are all too familiar with the common misconceptions that abound.

 So, why do farmers still claim, “baboons attack livestock to get milk”, or to eat.  Firstly, it is a common mistake for farmers to blame primates for crimes they didn’t commit because primates are diurnal hence farmers see them often while the real culprits – true predators – generally attack at night. To get some perspective on how distorted this misconception is, one can Google: “baboons attacking livestock”. We welcome any photographic information that challenges this view.

 

 

Below are some things we’ve heard people say about baboons in South Africa….and some answers based on current scientific knowledge.


Look at those long teeth – they must be for hunting prey.

Unlike dogs and cats, baboons are not natural carnivores and they do not have adaptations for hunting and eating meat. The long canine teeth you see on a male baboon are instead adaptations for male-male competition; males use these teeth to fight with other males and gain access to females. More commonly, males do not even have to use their teeth: they simply display them to other males in an open-mouthed threat or yawn, which serves as a signal to other males to stay away.

Baboons do occasionally hunt and eat small animals such as hares and lizards, but such foods comprise only a very small portion of their diet, which includes virtually everything (i.e., they are ‘omnivores’).  For more on baboon diets, see the Baboon Ecology page.

Also keep in mind that there are other animals, such as cats, snakes, and raptors, that habitually prey on birds, birds’ eggs, and other small animals. These animals, unlike baboons, are natural predators and are much better than baboons at locating and catching prey.

 


Look at those long teeth – I’d better watch out!

Baboons are not natural predators and thus would not normally attack a human unless threatened in some way. Examples of this would be if a baboon is made to feel trapped (e.g., inside a house with no escape route), if a person tries to take something away from a baboon (e.g., food), or if a person gets between an adult baboon and its infant. A baboon may also feel threatened if you look at it directly in the eyes, as baboons use direct eye contact to threaten one another.

 


Look at those long teeth – he’s out to get my pet!

A baboon will not normally attack a dog or cat unless it feels threatened in some way.  For example, a baboon may react aggressively if the dog lunges at or attacks the baboon, if the dog gets between an adult baboon and its infant, or if the baboon is made to feel trapped (e.g., inside a house with no escape route).  With small dogs and cats, it is possible that the baboon may perceive it as prey – as baboons do sometimes hunt and eat small mammals such as hares and small antelope. So, best to keep your pets away from baboons.  For more information, see the Baboons and Dogspage.

 


We see more baboons around, so their population size must be increasing.

In greatest likelihood, you see more baboons around you because the baboons in the area where you live are (a) gradually losing their fear of humans while (b) discovering how easy it is to gain access to human foods. These are psychological and behavioural changes in the baboons as a response to their interactions with humans. The baboons have formed a mental association between humans and easily-acquired food and have learned that they need not fear humans but can instead get food from them! This occurs because some people (particularly tourists) feed baboons and the baboons that do raid are not being stopped from doing so. Over time, the baboons will spend more and more of their time near people awaiting a free meal unless they learn that those free meals are no longer available.

As a result of these changes, we see the baboons around more often and naturally come to the conclusion that there are more of them in the population. The most likely scenario, however, is that there are just more of them near us because that’s where they get the best food!

Note: for some basic information on how fast baboons reproduce, see the Baboon Reproduction page.

 


Baboons are becoming bolder and more aggressive.

Baboons are not naturally aggressive towards humans and will usually only show aggression if you trap them or try to take something away from them. Baboons are wild animals and, like most wild animals, are naturally afraid of humans! The increased aggression and boldness of baboons that we perceive simply reflects a decreased fear of humans combined with an increased opportunity for free food. As stated above, these are psychological and behavioural changes occurring in the baboons themselves as they learn that humans are a source of easily-acquired food at the same time that they discover that there is no reason to fear humans. if humans and baboons are to co-exist peacefully then we must try to reverse or at least slow down this process as much as possible. To do this, we must (1) remove these opportunities for free food (i.e., decrease the attractants) and (2) increase the baboons’ fear of humans (i.e., use effective deterrents and never feed or approach baboons!).  For more information, see the Causes of Commensalism page.

 


Baboons are competing with humans for territory.

A territory is an area that animals defend against other members of their own species. Unlike many other primates, such as chimpanzees for example, baboons are NOT territorial. Rather, each baboon troop occupies a ‘home range’, part of which overlaps with the home range of other troops. Usually different troops avoid using these overlapping areas at the same time, and troops and home ranges shift fluidly in accordance with one another. (Thus, if humans encroach upon the home range of one troop, this can affect that troop’s relationship with other troops as well as the home ranges of all other troops in the area.) When baboon troops fight, it is usually over a food resource, over a sleeping site, or it is related to male-male competition over females and/or attempted infanticide – it is not over territories.

Baboons are opportunistic and will take food from our properties if it is available. This will occur whether or not our property is (or was) within the home range of that troop. We may think that we can keep baboons away by ‘showing them’ that this is ‘our’ territory. This is pointless, as a baboon couldn’t care less whose territory it is – it just wants the food!

Expanding human populations results in increased overlap between baboons and humans. This, combined with the natural flexibility of baboons, means that instead of ‘moving out’ of their original home range or simply dying off, a baboon troop may instead simply adapt its behaviour to this increased contact. As baboons lose their fear of humans (sometimes as a result of interactions with tourists and/or deliberate provisioning of baboons by humans), they become more and more willing to exploit the human-derived food resources they see as readily available to them and they start helping themselves to the food they find in gardens, homes, and cars with little or no regard for the humans who may be nearby.

For more information on keeping baboons out of “your” territory, see the Baboons and Your Property page.

 


Baboons mark their territories, and we can ‘fight back’ by marking ours.

Many animals mark their territories with urine or other bodily fluids, leaving a scent that is detectable by other animals. Baboons do not do this. There are two issues to consider here:

1. Baboons are not territorial (see above).

2. In the monkey and ape species that are territorial, vocalizations are used most often to defend territories, NOT scent-marking.

All monkeys and apes, like humans, use visual and vocal communication far more than the sense of smell. Monkeys and apes do not have the rhinarium (wet nose) that dogs and cats have, and without this feature they have to get very close to something to smell it. Many people assume that baboons have a keen sense of smell because of their dog-like face, but in fact their sense of smell is not very different from our own!

 


Lone baboon males are ‘rogue males’ that have been rejected by their troop and are out to cause trouble.

Male baboons typically leave the troops in which they were born and move into new troops to reproduce. Some males do this two or more times during their lifetime. This process of group transfer, called dispersal, may start when a male is a young subadult (i.e., not yet full body size, canine teeth not yet fully developed), at which point he may leave his natal troop and join other troops on a temporary basis while he decides which troop to ultimately immigrate into. We thus sometimes see male baboons wandering around alone during this dispersal process, which may last several months or more.  For more information about dispersal in baboons, see the Dispersal and Philopatry page.

Unfortunately, some of these dispersing males do ‘get into trouble,’ as it is much easier for a lone male baboon to slip into the urban area and enter buildings looking for food without being seen than for an entire troop to do so! These males are often viewed as ‘sneaky’ because they enter buildings silently. This probably has nothing to do with the baboon deliberately trying to hide from humans. Rather, it is likely because the baboon is alone, surrounded by members of another species that he is naturally afraid of, and without any other baboons around to communicate with!

Also unfortunate is the situation in the Cape Peninsula of South Africa where dispersing males often end up stuck in urban areas because they are trying to disperse across them – but there is simply too much urban sprawl in the way for them to be able to reach new troops.

 


The alpha male baboon leads the troop.

Baboon troops are held together by kinship bonds among related females, who typically stay their entire lives in the troop in which they were born. These females are organized into matrilines, with each female that is born ranking in a dominance hierarchy just below her mother. The oldest females in the troop are the ‘matriarchs’, and they have been in the troop the longest and have acquired the most knowledge. Male baboons, by contrast, leave their natal troops and disperse to new troops one or more times in their lives. Males fight for dominance amongst themselves, and there is invariably an ‘alpha male’ of the troop, but his alpha status may be short-lived and he may not have been in the troop for very long. Thus it is the females, especially the oldest females, that hold the troop together, that know the most about local resources, and that probably contribute the most to the troop’s movement patterns.  For more information on kinship bonds and sociality in baboons, see the Baboon Sociality page.

 


Content on this page contributed by:
Larissa Swedell
Julian Saunders
Thanks to the following reviewers for improving this page:
Dr. Jessica Rothman
Dr. Angela van Doorn
Dr. Janette Wallis
Dr. Kirsten Wimberger

Please credit this website for any and all use of this material.

OLD AFRICA AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Once upon a time in Africa, people understood that us humans are not above all other animals but equal to them. And so the time has come for us to reflect on the past, present and look deeply to find a solution to the damage we have caused.

Credo Mutwa is an extraordinary South African character; he is a traditional healer, psychic and talented storyteller. His knowledge of old Africa which has been progressively lost throughout past decades remains a crucial key to understanding our true relationship to nature and other animals. In his book, Isilwane the Animal, he describes how African people did not see us humans as separate from nature in the past: we understood that we are not above animals, trees, fishes and birds but equal to them.

Old Africa understood our interconnectedness with all living beings. When the white man

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came to Africa, the continent was teeming with animals which were then mass slaughtered once they erected their farms.

Credo makes the point that many westerners still believe that conservation was imported by colonial powers into Africa and Ian Player confirms in the foreward to the book that those who worked in reserves and protected areas in Zululand know that conservation existed long before the white man arrived.  He describes how African tribes respected nature and our interconnectedness with the Earth by holding wild animals as their totems – a system which served to preserve the environment and showed a clear respect for a healthy biodiversity.

Excerpts from ISILWANE THE ANIMAL BY CREDO MUTWA:

“Through Isilwane the Animal, I hope to open the eyes of the world to traditional African attitudes, folklore and rituals which have governed the relationships between the people of Africa and the animal world.

Today we see the human race running around in circles, like a mad dog chasing its own tail. Today, the same type of confusion prevails in all fields of human thought. There is confusion in the way we view ourselves, there is confusion in the way we view the earth, there is even confusion, believe it or not, at the core of every one of the world’s religions. I can state this with confidence as I have studied most of these religions and even joined some of them.

But why the confusion? It is due to the way we view things: the way we view the atom, stars, life on Earth, and the way we view the Deity Himself or Herself. But the most dangerous and destructive view by far – one which has changed human beings into rampaging, destructive and mindless beasts – is that we compare ourselves with other living things.

Western Man is taught that he is the master of all living things. The bible itself enshrines this extreme attitude, as do other great books. Repeatedly one hears of dangerous phrases such as “untamed nature”, or “interrogating nature with power”. One hears of the strange belief that man is superior to all other living things on Earth and that he was especially created to be overlord and custodian of all things animate and inanimate. Until these attitudes are combated and erased from the human mind, Westernised humans will be a danger to all earthly life, including themselves.”

“When white people came to Africa, they had been conditioned to separate themselves spiritually and physically from wildlife. In the vast herds of animals, they saw four footed enemies to be crushed and objects of fun to be destroyed for pleasure. They slaughtered wild animals by the million. It never occurred to the white pioneers that these animals were protected by the native tribes through whose land they migrated. It never occurred to them, with their muskets, rifles and carbines, that black people worshipped these great herds and regarded them as an integral part of their existence on Earth.”

CONSERVATION AND THE TOTEM SYSTEM:

“In old Africa, every tribe had an animal that it regarded as its totem, an animal after which the tribe had been names by its founders. It was the sacred duty of the tribe to ensure that the animal after which it was named was never harmed within the confines of its territory. In addition, Africans knew that certain wild animals co-exist with others, and that in order to protect the animal after which the tribe was named, it was essential to protect those animals with which the sacred one co-existed. In KwaZulu- Natal for example, there is a tribe, the Dube people, for whom the zebra is a totem. These people not only protect vast herds of zebra in their tribal land, allowing them to roam where they choose, but they also protect herds of wildebeest because they realise that zebras co-exist with wildebeest. …The old Africans knew that to protect the zebra one had to effectively protect the wildebeest, the warthog, the bushpig, the eland, the kudu and other animals sometimes found grazing with zebra in the bush. But the old Africans knew that it was not enough to simply protect those animals which grazed with their totem animal. It was essential to protect those animals which preyed upon their sacred animals.

“There were tribes, such as the Batswana Bakaru and the Bafurutsi, which regarded the Baboon as their totem. They knew that protecting the baboons alone was not enough. The leopard which preyed on the baboon had to be protected, along with the plants upon which the baboon fed. The people knew that if they did not protect the plants, they would starve in the bush and start feeding on the crops in the people’s corn and maize fields. If this occurred, baboons would become man’s enemy.

The Batswana Batloung tribe, whose name means “people of the elephant”, were sworn to protect the elephant. They also protected the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus, which they regarded as the elephant’s cousins. It was believed that an elephant would not injure a person who carried the Bafluong name.”

BIODIVERSITY:

“The African people knew, just as the native American people knew, that if you destroy the environment, you will ultimately destroy the human race. …A remarkable Tswana proverb states that, “He who buries the tree, will next bury the wild animal, and after that, bury his own ox, and ultimately bury his own children.” This saying indicates that people were aware, even in ancient times, of the interdependence on all living creatures upon this Earth, and that if you harm one, you harm others and, in the end yourself.”