Are there baboons on Table Mountain?
Although some older Capetonians can recall baboons hanging out in Newlands decades ago, I have never spotted a baboon on any part of the front, or the Back Table.
However, several troops live in the greater Table Mountain National Park. Some of them roam the peninsula's peri-urban districts.
The sanctity of such human constructs as boundaries around farms, national parks and dwellings mean little to them except the possibility of sustenance.
If a window or door is left open, and if there's food around, they’ll take the gap. And if there's lots of grub and you aren't there to object, they’ll party. They are opportunistic omnivores.
Baboons' natural behavior
Opportunism is part of their natural behaviour. It’s a factor in their evolutionary success. But it prompts even normally sober publications to pen headlines like ‘Baboon Gangs Run Wild in Suburban South Africa.’
I can appreciate where this might come from. I once saw a troop invading a house whose occupants were out. They ripped into everything except the whiskey; they also had the good taste not to touch a large pink wedding cake. Apart from the defecation that the excitement brought on, it was good clean fun. It reminded me of King Louis' Jungle Book party.
But it's because of such 'gangster' labeling that the approximately 350 - 500 baboons that live around Cape Town pay the price of human outrage, and suffer official attempts to ‘manage’ them.
The city of Cape Town has contracted a company of about 60 field rangers to keep the 12 baboon troops in check. Using controversial method like killing 'problematic' offenders they attempt to prevent baboons from straying into areas where they trawl waste-bins, pick fruit, and intrude into residences. Some are known to physically harass people carrying food.
But do baboons ‘run wild’ when foraging for food?
Researchers say that baboons will, before moving into human colonized territories, check out the lie of the land, and how many people are about and whether they are men, women or children. That's how they calculate their next move to get any temptingly available high energy food resources, like crops, fruit or highly processed carbs such as bread.
They will even put up with a few duck slaps in exchange for eggs.
They can get enough energy from a few eggs or a loaf of bread to allow them to relax and enjoy themselves for the rest of the day, instead of having to keep up the search.
They may seem to us to be running wild, but this is how they have evolved - nimble, dexterous, and good at problem solving. Humans often have to change their various modes of deterrence because baboons are great at working-around them.
Why are there no baboons on Table Mountain propper?
Apparently it’s too high up. The kind of food eaten by the local chacma baboons - or Papio ursinus - fruits, flowers, berries, bulbs and roots - is found in the lowland. They also tuck into scorpion, and whatever else is to be foraged in the intertidal zone at Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, and particularly enjoy mussels, crabs and limpets.
But elsewhere, being highly adaptive, some chacma troops have worked out ways of surviving in higher reaches of the Drakensberg, and in deserts.