baboon strolls purposefully at Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve

Are there baboons on Table Mountain?


Not really. 


I have never spotted a baboon on any part of the front, or the Back Table. But several troops live in the greater Table Mountain National Park.


Not appreciating the sanctity of such human constructs as boundaries around farms, national parks and dwellings, baboons roam the penisula's peri-urban districts.


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.


baboon at Silvermine eating stolen picnic food
Knowing what a picnic bag looks like, baboons can quickly dart in and raid.

Baboons' natural behavior


Opportunism is part of their natural behavior. 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 came across a troop that had invaded 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.

sketch of baboon examining a can

But do baboons ‘run wild’ when foraging for food?



Researchers say that baboons will, when 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, and then calculate their next move to get any available high energy food resources, like crops, fruit or highly processed carbs such as bread.


They'll even put up with a few duck slaps in exchange for eggs.


They'll 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 moving in search of sustenance.  


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.   

Several baboons browse the bush at Olifantsbosch near Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Berry pickers near Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve

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 scorpions, and whatever else they can forage down in the intertidal zones at Cape of Good Hope, 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.   


A baboon prances in the intertidal zone at Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Forager prancing the intertidal zone