It seems a harsh sentence for housebreaking, even serial housebreaking – execution by lethal injection. But that was the fate a few months ago of William the Conqueror, a 14-year old alpha male baboon who helped himself to one of the many bananas from kitchens in Scarborough on the Cape Peninsula.
Nature conservation authorities trapped and killed William after denouncing him as a habitual offender, making him the first victim of a new secret protocol that sets out the circumstances in which “repeat raider” baboons are put down.
The protocol was drawn up by officials from national and provincial conservation bodies and Cape Town municipality in an attempt to deal with the long-simmering conflict between baboons and humans on the peninsula.
The death of William has sparked outrage from activists who believe the real villains are people who fail to lock their doors and windows and leave tempting food waste outside their homes.
“Unless there’s a public outcry, I’m jolly sure a lot more baboons will be nixed because a lot of baboons fall into the category described by the protocol,” said Jenni Trethowan, who has long campaigned for non-lethal solutions to the conflict.
“You can take away a single raiding animal, but if people continue to out out attraction, the next baboon will come.” Tim Newman, a primatologist who has studied the Scarborough troop for nearly four years, described William’s killing as “an unfortunate case of failure to look at the problem correctly. They use a kind of Band Aid approach; take out the male that most people complain about and hopefully the problem goes away, but I can assure you it wont,” he said.
“As long as there is food in the town and baboons can get to it, they will come back.” He said a baboon would have to spend four hours foraging in fynbos to consume the number of calories it could obtain from half a loaf of brown bread left on a kitchen counter.
Fanie Bekker, executive director of operations for CapeNature, said the protocol had been implemented to deal with “baboons” who are beyond control”.
“There’s a very specific trail of evidence that’s required before we will consider euthanizing a specific so-called “problem baboon,” he said. “There won’t be a decision taken just based on complaints from a member of the public.“
More than 400 baboons in nearly a dozen troops are estimated to roam the peninsula from Cape Point to Tokia in the southern suburbs of the city.
Home owners on the urban fringes regularly complain of baboons climbing through doors and windows, leaving faeces everywhere and causing damage costing thousands of rands. Scarborough resident Ushka Mrkusic said no one had asked people in the town if they wanted William killed. She suggested that authorities had acted while World Cup fever was at its height in the hope that their action would draw little attention. “I’m shocked,” she said. “William has never attacked a human being… you can’t just take out alpha males just for behaving like baboons.”
Written by: Anton Ferreira