Cape Town metro to abandon baboon management programme: ‘Animal rights activists have won’

A Cape Chacma baboon.

A Cape Chacma baboon. Getty Images

  • The City of Cape Town finds itself in the middle of a heated confrontation over the management of baboon troops.
  • The council has run an urban baboon management programme for over a decade.
  • It appears the programme will be coming to an end in just over 12 months.

The City of Cape Town looks set to abandon its controversial urban baboon management programme in July next year, with an elected representative conceding the programme “hasn’t worked” and that “baboon management is not the mandate of the City”.

The metro has run the programme for over a decade, with costs estimated to run well into the millions.

The City’s intention to terminate the programme leaked, with baboon rangers withdrawn from the leafy suburb of Constantia recently, leaving the baboon troop to “run amok”.

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Emile Langenhoven, a ward councillor in the area, addressed a letter to a resident this week, saying: “It has been made clear to us that baboon management is not the mandate of the City and no further resources will be assigned. In fact, the baboon management programme will come to an end in July 2023.”

The unpopular and divisive programme provoked numerous protests and severe criticism from animal activists, who claim the programme had no public mandate and used questionable and cruel methods.

The latest move provoked criticism that the programme had been unlawful and that City officials had wasted well over R100 million of public funds over the 12 years.

Animal activist Naude Visser said the programme – an arrangement whereby Cape Nature issued permits to ‘hunt’ chacma baboons inside and outside of the South African National Parks’ Table Mountain National Park – was void and without any legal standing.

Visser, who is an attorney by profession, said:

A power delegated by Parliament to a statutory body cannot be delegated again to a third-party without the consent of Parliament.

“SANParks and Cape Nature were riding on the back of Cape Town ratepayers and unlawfully delegated the problem to the City. It should never have happened. We are just relieved that the burden will no longer fall upon City ratepayers.”

Initial indications of the policy shift came from the City’s public relations official for the baboon management programme – Kay Montgomery – who admitted the programme had failed, and suggested the move had been forced by animal activists.

Speaking at a public meeting of the Invasive Species Forum, in Cape Town earlier this month, Montgomery conceded that “the old thinking of shooting them and getting rid of them, and making them go out of the suburb hasn’t worked – we must accept that and move into a new era”.

She said animal activists “from across the world” had forced the City to abandon the programme.

“The animal activists from across the world have said ‘we won’t visit you, we won’t buy your wine, we won’t have anything to do with you if you endanger any living creature in the City of Cape Town’.

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“We, together with the City of Cape Town and my colleague, Julia Wood, and my colleagues over there – Chandre and Mark – have basically agreed that the animal rights activists have won.”

Montgomery said “the City is in retreat” and was planning a new ‘living alongside nature’ campaign.

“We’re going through an era in which the animal rights activists will roll [rule] the show and we will facilitate meetings with animal rights activists and residents to see how we can all live in the same area; and that goes for baboons, porcupines and peacocks.”

Jenni Trethowan, of the Baboon Matters non-profit organisation, said she found the statement divisive, mischievous and disrespectful.

“Ms Montgomery speaks about how the animal activists have won, as if we were at war, which only creates further division and inflames the situation. I find it disrespectful.”

Outspoken animal rights activist Ryno Engelbrecht accused the City of “washing its hands of the baboons”, after wasting millions on the programme.

He said:

These people don’t know what they’re doing.

He also criticised Montgomery for framing the issue as a war, saying: “We never won – we wanted open discussion about managing baboons and we still don’t have that.”

On the other side of the ‘environmental divide’, the statement also provoked outrage from ratepayers, who depend on the City’s service provider – Nature Conservation Consultants (NCC) – to keep baboons out of their homes, on the urban edges of the Table Mountain National Park.

On Sunday, 17 April, baboon rangers for the Constantia 2 troop were withdrawn from the area, leaving the troop to “run amok” as “the City has withdrawn this contingency due to lack of funds”.

Speaking for the Constantia Ratepayers and Residents Association, Gordon Chunnett said: “This is a  terrible situation. Our lives and homes and safety are at risk, including our pets and property.

“In recent months there has been extensive damage caused, ripping up thatched roofs, breaking open windows. One woman had to wrestle a baboon, to close a skylight the baboons were trying to force open.”

Parties on both sides of the matter have criticised the metro for a perceived lack of public participation in reaching its decision.

No response had been received from the City at the time of publication – and the mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment and deputy mayor, Edwin Andrews, did not respond to calls and emails for comment.

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