Bold baboons take over Cape village

2012-07-09 08:44

TV crew accused of helping animals behave more brazenly
 

A National Geographic series has been accused of fuelling a crime wave with a difference in Pringle Bay: housebreaking by troops of clued-up baboons.

An average of three homes in the Western Cape town are “burgled” daily by baboons that have learnt to break in through secured windows and sliding doors, says Wayne Kruger, the security manager
for ASK Security, based in Pringle Bay.

While the small seaside village has long battled with opportunistic baboon raids, some residents believe the TV series, shot in a cottage at nearby Hangklip Hotel, has contributed to “new”, more trained break-in behaviour.

Big Baboon House, filmed from June to October last year, kitted out a cottage for baboons to raid and filmed the results.

Baboons were presented with challenges, with food as reward.

One clip on YouTube shows baboons being left “gifts” of potato chips packets by a Father Christmas figure.

The animals entered the house freely during filming, eating food from a fridge.

One “challenge” had them trying to get to fruit by climbing a greased pole.

CapeNature, the Pringle Bay Baboon Action Group and UCT Baboon Research Unit head Justin O’Riain – who says he appears in Big Baboon House in a context he was not expecting after he was filmed – have all labelled the clips unethical.

Residents have now told City Press of further “experiments” they feel helped habituate the baboons to humans: a research vehicle drove around the village with fruit attached to spikes on the roof and a fridge stocked with food was placed on the side of Edward Street to see how the animals reacted.

National Geographic spokesperson Thandi Davids said a “responsible, independent local production company” was used to film the show and all necessary permits had been obtained.

The food on the roof of the vehicle “was in fact fake food manufactured in plastic”. She said the permits did not refer to specific shoot scenarios.

“The filming was responsible and conducted within strict Nat Geo principles?.?.?.?baboon behaviour in the area was the same prior to the shoot taking place and this behaviour is in fact the key reason we were there to shoot.”

Fanie Kriger, the communication manager for the Overstrand municipality, said the film team did not initially have the correct permit to film on municipal land and only applied for one after being confronted for interfering “with our waste management system”.

Kriger said the municipality has distanced itself “in no uncertain terms from the practices followed during the filming (as seen in the clips)”.

On Wednesday, City Press met ASK Security employees just after they had evicted a troop of baboons from a home.

Noise from a stun gun had to be used to move the baboons on.

Inside, holiday-maker Chantal Swart and her family were cleaning up spilt sugar, empty food wrappers and baboon excrement.

The baboons had lifted a locked sliding door off its rails.

Long-term resident Elli Wessels said: “I’m for the baboons, but my house has been trashed more times than I can count. It’s intolerable. I live like a prisoner – no open windows.”

A baboon recently took goods from a customer exiting her shop.

“They’re more aggressive. They’ve become fearless in the last year or 18 months.”

Wessels thinks this is because of several factors, including the National Geographic filming.

“It’s appalling. All these years of trying to educate the public (not to feed baboons) has been erased in three months.”

The baboon action group, a subcommittee of the Pringle Bay Conservancy, is working with CapeNature and the Overstrand municipality to try and solve the problem.

A programme of action has been drawn up, said Pringle Bay conservancy chair Bernard Heydenrych.

Almost 30 people have volunteered for a baboon-monitoring project that, should it be municipally approved, will follow troops for three months and identify problem individuals.

There is fierce debate about whether to then kill such animals

On the Cape peninsula, zero-overlap policies are now employed to prevent any form of habituation between baboons and humans.

O’Riain’s recommended solution is baboon-proof fencing around the village – something Heydenrych said 60-70% of residents were against.

Regular weekenders to Pringle Bay, Darryn Te Roller and Robyn Luyt, said they have learnt to live with the baboons.

Luyt’s home has electric fencing and baboon-proof windows, but the troop got in one day when the electricity was down.


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