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From time immemorial baboons have been deemed as vermin or pests. Farmers have a long-standing beef with baboons that is not going to go away anytime soon.

They are some of man’s closest relations in the animal kingdom, but baboons have never come any closer to – or grown warmer bonds with – their more civilised cousins.

From time immemorial baboons have been deemed as vermin or pests.

Farmers have a longstanding beef with baboons that is not going to go away anytime soon.

However, farmer or no farmer, residents at the country’s border towns have come into mortal conflict with the baboons that frolic the localities.

The baboons are wreaking havoc and, unfortunately for humans, they have studied us and know how best to strike.

Victoria Falls businessman Mr Tonderai Mutasa said baboons in the country’s prime tourist destination have become a menace.

“Baboons are very cunning and mischievous. They have taken to studying our moves that is why they can open car doors when they see food inside,” he said.

He said baboons damaged property, especially cars and roofs.

“When they are playing on the roofs you should make sure you call your satellite dish installer for resetting because they break the LNB.”

Cars have not been spared either as the playful and oft mischievous animals break windows as they play.

Mr Mutasa has also observed the unity among the troops that roam the town of Victoria Falls.

“If they discover that one of their own has been trapped it is rare for the other baboons to leave the area before they see what has happened to their pal and if it starts screaming the whole troop will cause pandemonium,” he said.

He added that baboon troops had mastered the art of opening doors to cars and houses, and they sometimes sent the smallest members to enter houses through windows in search of food.

Shearwater Aentures spokesperson Mr Clement Mukwasi finds the primates quite fascinating.

“The Zimbabwe-Zambia border posts are manned on both sides of the river by the food searching family heads whose menacing looks scare away our women,” he said.

He added that women are heard on several occasions screaming after being raided by the animals.

“They rob women of paper bags, all sorts of food, big cellphones and handbags. They can tell the gender of a person through the dress code and the presence of breasts. If ever one leaves a house with windows or doors open, the baboons descend on the house eating their favourite food including sugar, bread, eggs, potatoes and rice,” he said.

The primates sleep on rooftops, slide on electricity lines and pylons and often destroy crops and orchads.

Mr Mukwasi, however, said the animals were favourites with tourists who throw food at them for close-up photos.

“Baboons are playful animals that love fun all the time. Parking a car near or under a tree is a risk that one may regret forever. They can jump onto the windscreen and shatter everything. The most vicious ones are the family heads.”

He said one of the worst experiences was to have two baboons mating on your rooftop.

“Their worst fear, however, are snakes. To drive them away for some time, one needs to buy rubber snakes and throw them around.”

In Chirundu, the primates are equally daring and people in the area have sent an SOS to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to assist them.

The animals open truck tarpaulins on vehicles to get food.

The baboons that roam Chirundu have also devised ways to open car doors, pry off planks from wooden cabins and remove roofing from makeshift houses at the infamous Baghdad compound.

While many are known to target women and children, the baboons can even attack unsuspecting men in grab-and-dash missions.

Ms Atukele Kurisa was a recent victim attacked by marauding baboons that removed planks from her shack.

“The baboons have become so crafty that sometimes they remove roofing material and eat everything they can find in the house,” she said.

Ms Kurisa lost mealie-meal, her baby’s porridge and other food items.

Ms Portia Maringisanwa said their major problem was accommodation. She lives in a shack that cannot keep away the animals.

“The authorities should give us places to build proper houses because the baboons have become so daring that we do not even feel safe in our homes anymore,” she said.

The people of Chirundu find a measure of humour in their interactions with their cousins. The more notorious baboons have been given names.

There is the duo of Dereck and Joshua who everyone in the town knows.

According to Mr Arnold Mukausaru, Dereck is known for targeting children, grabbing whatever food they hold.

“Dereck spends a long time monitoring the children, attacks or slaps a stubborn child before making off with the food and most of the kids here would rather eat indoors.

“Then there is Joshua, who has a big scar on the mouth and attacks anyone, even men, as long as they are holding bags. He can enter a shop for bread or buns when a crowd is in there as long as he thinks no one is watching him,” he said.

Mr Mukausaru added: “As much as we would want to get rid of the baboons using catapults it is a crime because you will be fined up to US$20 even for feeding the animals because authorities suspect that you may poison them.”

There is the interesting story of Alfred the Baboon from Beitbridge.

The beast is named after the old Alfred Beit Bridge, where he perched himself and attacked just about anyone who walked by.

Many people from the town say he owned the bridge and you would only pass on foot either after “giving” him a tribute or if he was in a good enough mood.

Writing on the man-baboon conflict in Cape Town, South Africa, George Tyson talks about one primate named Bart, who set up camp at the university cam- pus.

According to Tyson, Bart was a dispersing male who left his troop in search of another. This, he said, was a strategy used by all male baboons at some stage to prevent inbreeding.

“Instead of another troop, Bart found university students. He was removed and transported to Cape Point, the furthest possible point away from the campus in the hope that he would integrate with some existing troops in the area,” Tyson wrote.

But Bart was found on campus six months later, looking for food and getting about the university like any other student.

Authorities put him down.

According a study by Julian Saunders and Larisa Swedell, there are three ways to reduce baboon-human conflict, though there are no quick-fixes.

“Baboons are behaviourally flexible and extremely mobile and have thus been able to adapt to and circumvent most strategies implemented to date,” they say.

They add that there is need to consider ecological needs and behaviour of baboons in their natural environment.

The duo say baboons are not attracted to humans, but rather the resources around them – in particular food.

Thus, they said, strategies employed include reducing the attractants and using aversion techniques including protecting food from baboons, providing them with artificial water sources and artificial sleeping sites for the primates.

According to National Geographic, there are five different species of baboons and all of them live in Africa or Arabia. Some generally prefer savannah and other semi-arid habitats.

It adds that baboons are opportunistic eaters and, fond of crops, become destructive pests to many African farmers. They eat fruits, grasses, seeds, bark, and roots, but also have a taste for meat.

They will eat birds, rodents, and even the young of larger mammals, such as antelopes and sheep.

Feedback: sydney.kawadza@zimpapers,co.zw

Source : The Herald