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.

The con in conservation – South African legislation.

WESTERN CAPE 2015:

The con in conservation.

During my seventeen years working with wild primates, one nagging concern remained consistent: our nature conservation authorities appeared to be on the wrong side.The 2015 hunting notice allows for baboons/monkeys to be killed  using various methods once again instilling the chilling reminder that they seem to support the self-serving interests of farmers and hunters at the expense of the environment. If our nature conservation authorities are unable to view the environment as a whole but continue to support legislation that allows so-called “problem species” (as defined by certain sectors of society) to be persecuted, we are given little hope for South Africa’s environmental future.

The vervet monkey and chacma baboon are protected and listed under appendix two of C.I.T.E.S  which warns that trade in these species needs to be monitored to ensure they do not become endangered.

Except for the Cape Peninsula in South Africa, primate populations are not monitored and assumptions are conveniently made using old, outdated data.

A COMMON MISCONCEPTION:

A healthy monkey or baboon troop is made up of a fragile, cohesive social system and  is measured by the age/sex ratio of members. Measuring the health of a primate group by relying on numbers – as if they are  autonomous objects – is where most people go wrong. Primates are social animals!

Baboons are not Predators!

“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.” For more info: http://www.imfene.org/misconceptions-about-baboons

oct9 Tau – a young baboon shot by dairy farmer – The Crags.

Wild primates are not commonly regarded as venison:

As the chacma baboon and vervet monkey are not considered to be venison, their presence on the hunting list is highly questionable.

Hunting primates and zoonotic diseases:

Humans, baboons and monkeys all belong to the primate family making the transmission of diseases between them particularly risky.

Baboons share 92% of the same DNA as humans, monkeys share 91% and bonobos share 99%.

The presence of wild primates on the hunting list encourages the consumption of bushmeat and the consequential spreading of zoonotic diseases (Simian Foamy Virus, TB, Ebola etc.)

 There is no “sport value in hunting primates:

Wild primates do not regard human primates as predators and do not fear them the way they would a predator. Instead, they regard as another primate species with whom they sometimes need to compete with for resources. The level of fear they exhibit – or the lack of it – is due to learnt experience as they move through life interacting with either hostile or kind, friendly humans. Their tendency to get close to humans makes them highly vulnerable to being hunted at close range and the total lack of “sport value” makes it akin to canned hunting.

Damage caused to troop structures:

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 is a misconception for the following reasons:

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 dependence they have on a healthy social system. A healthy primate troop relies on a fragile social system; shooting individuals leads to damaged troop structures which in turn impacts on related systems. Humans have impacted heavily on dysfunctional troops.

Vervet Monkey populations are damaged in the W.C.

Vervet monkey populations are not monitored yet the damage done to these populations is clear to anyone living in the area who has some knowledge about conservation. This makes their inclusion on the hunting list all the more critical.

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

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 this Western Cape.” – Gareth Patterson

 How the Hunting Proclamation influences the public and perpetuates the persecution of wild primates:

The general public looks to our Nature Conservation authorities for guidance. At present, the Hunting Proclamation which allows landowners to kill two monkeys/baboons every day, all year round gives the public the clear message that the lives of primates are cheap, their contribution to biodiversity is irrelevant and persecuting them is acceptable.

 Public perception, misconceptions and South African conservation legislation have dramatically contributed to a number of primate orphans living in South African rehabilitation centres. The same factors have heavily influenced the growing amount of primates being held as pets. Hundreds of orphaned vervet monkeys and baboons currently reside in various rescue and rehabilitation centres in South Africa. These rescue centres receive no support from our conservation authorities and are self-reliant against all odds.

 

Considering these observations, the question remains: why are the vervet monkey and chacma baboon listed on a hunting list? Taking the above into consideration, I can only conclude that Cape Nature continues to support the self-serving interests of farmers and hunters at the expense of a healthy biodiversity.

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The implications of making bow hunting legal:

  • – A licence is not required to own and use a bow and arrow, thus the legal persecution of wild primates is extended to a larger percentage of the South African public.
  • Hunting with a bow and arrow is silent, hence killing wildlife can be easily done in secret – with less accountability for the damage caused to the animal and the species.
  • Hunting with a bow and arrow makes it easier for the amateur hunter to wound and kill no matter how much cruelty is involved without the threat of punishment.
  • It is generally accepted that Cape Nature does not have the capacity to monitor hunting, allowing for the widespread abuse of hunting activities.

“Firearms Control Act (FCA): What further fuelled the bow hunting industry in South Africa was the implementation of our draconian “Firearms Control Act” or FCA. This act made owning a firearm an onerous task and obtaining licences became and remains a task of note. Many avid hunters in South Africa then explored bow hunting and many have become bow hunting enthusiasts. We now have bow shops all over the country, even in the small towns. No licences are required. Although there are minimum specifications for bows and arrows for differing species, the authorities lack the capacity to monitor the local market”. AFRICAN INDABA NOVEMBER 2013, VOLUME 11-5&6

 

As the authorities do not have the capacity to monitor hunting, we can assume that widespread abuse is likely to occur. It is unrealistic for Cape Nature to believe that landowners will act responsibly in the best interests of the environment when it is easier to serve one’s self-serving financial interests based on the misconception that shooting solves the problem of raiding; during the past 350 years the irrational idea that killing problem animals solves the problem of raiding monkeys and baboons has been the guiding rule in wildlife management yet after 350 years we still have the same problems.

  Surely this tells us that killing tactics do not work?1917810_209017116411_2095979_n

 

 Read about our Shocking Failure of Conservation from Chris Mercer of CACH  for more info. 

Links: MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT BABOONS –  https://darwinprimategroup.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/misconceptions-about-baboons/