'Cousins' at War: Baboons vs. People

ByABC News
March 16, 2007, 4:02 PM

CAPE PENINSULA, South Africa, March 17, 2007 — -- In this lush remote finger of land on the very southern tip of Africa, "cousins" are at war with one another in a classic battle for territory.

The feud is between humans and baboons, which share enough of our genetic traits to be referred to by some scientists as close cousins in the evolutionary ladder. But that's where any sense of family identity stops. Baboons have long been widely considered pests because they raid farm crops.

And now there is a new source of friction on Cape Peninsula. Urban development has cut off a troop of 350 baboons from territory where they used to roam free and forage for food among wild bushes.

So instead they now hunt for food in the trash cans and kitchens of the humans who have taken over their former domain. Some days entire neighborhoods look like they had been the scene of a food riot, with overturned trash cans and ripped garbage bags strew over the pavement.

Many of the humans are very upset.

Carlo Volbrecht, a home owner, told ABC News: "They've been inside my house probably five times. They've defecated all over the place. They open the fridge, they take food from the cupboards, and cause damage in the process."

And even more alarmingly, said Volbrecht, "Baboons broke through my roof, entirely destroying the ceiling, and entered the room where my infant son was sleeping."

Volbrecht and a handful of other local homeowners have formed the Baboon Free Neighbourhood Action Group, which favors a peaceful solution to the turf battle, either fencing off the baboon population, or relocating them to a remote reserve.

Other residents are urging that local government officials cull -- kill -- the baboons. That is a difficult issue because at present it is illegal to kill baboons.

However, some people here have taken matters into their own hands. According to animal rights campaigners, some 30 Cape Peninsula baboons were slaughtered last year alone, either by shooting or by poisoning.

Jenni Trehowen and other animal conservationists have formed a charity called Baboon Matters, which pays for a handful of people to monitor baboon movements and try to steer the animals away from urban areas. Trehowen told ABC News that the solution is neither to fence away, nor relocate, nor indeed kill baboons.