Cape Town Metro to drop baboon management scheme: ‘Animal rights activists have won’

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

Cape Town appears set to scrap its controversial urban baboon management scheme in July next year, with an elected official conceding that the scheme ‘didn’t work’ and that ‘management of baboons is not the mandate from the city”.

The metro has run the program for more than a decade, with costs estimated in the millions.

The city’s intention to end the program has been disclosed, with the baboon guards having recently withdrawn from the leafy suburb of Constantia, leaving the troop of baboons to “run wild”.

READ | “An urgent management plan for baboons is needed”

Emile Langenhoven, a ward councilor in the area, wrote a letter to a resident this week, saying: “It has been made clear to us that baboon management is not the City’s mandate and that no other resources will be affected. In fact, the baboon management program will end in July 2023.”

The unpopular and divisive program has drawn widespread protests and harsh criticism from animal activists, who say the program had no public mandate and used questionable and cruel methods.

The latest decision sparked criticism that the scheme was illegal and that city officials had wasted more than R100 million in public funds over the 12 years.

Wildlife activist Naude Visser said the scheme – an arrangement whereby Cape Nature issues permits to “hunt” chacma baboons inside and outside Table Mountain National Park in South African national parks – was null and void.

Visser, who is a lawyer 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 backs of Cape Town taxpayers and illegally delegated the problem to the city. This should never have happened. We are just relieved the burden is no longer on the city taxpayers.”

The first indications of the change in policy came from the city’s public relations officer for the baboon management program – Kay Montgomery – who admitted the program had failed and suggested the move had been forced by activists for the animals.

Speaking at a public meeting of the Invasive Species Forum in Cape Town earlier this month, Montgomery conceded that “the old idea of ​​shooting them and getting rid of them, and getting them out of the suburbs didn’t work – we have to accept that and enter a new era”.

She said animal activists “around the world” forced the city to drop the program.

“Animal advocates around 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 Cape Town’.

READ ALSO | Rhino poacher sentenced to 53 years in prison

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

Montgomery said “the city is in retreat” and is planning a new “live alongside nature” campaign.

“We are going through a time when animal rights activists will ride [rule] the show and we will facilitate meetings with animal rights activists and residents to see how we can all live in the same neighborhood; and that goes for baboons, porcupines and peacocks.”

Jenni Trethowan of the nonprofit Baboon Matters said she found the statement divisive, mischievous and disrespectful.

“Ms. Montgomery talks about the victory for animal rights activists as if we were at war, which only creates more divisions and escalates the situation. I find that disrespectful.”

Animal rights activist Ryno Engelbrecht has accused the city of “washing its hands of baboons”, after it wasted millions on the scheme.

He said:

These people don’t know what they are doing.

He also criticized Montgomery for portraying the issue as a war, saying “We never won – we wanted an open discussion about baboon management and we still don’t have that.”

Across the “environmental divide,” the statement also sparked outrage among 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 Table Mountain National Park.

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

Speaking on behalf of the Constantia Taxpayers and Residents Association, Gordon Chunnett said: “This is a terrible situation. Our lives, our homes and our safety are at risk, including our pets and our goods.

“In recent months there has been extensive damage, ripping thatched roofs, smashing open windows. A woman had to struggle with a baboon to close a skylight which the baboons were trying to force open.”

Parties on both sides of the case criticized the Metro for a perceived lack of public participation in making its decision.

No response had been received from the city at the time of publication – and mayor’s committee member for land use planning and the environment and deputy mayor Edwin Andrews did not respond to calls and emails for comments.

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