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Baboons going wild in mountains above Voëlklip

HERMANUS – Since implementation of a virtual fence in the mountains above Voëlklip in mid February 2020, there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of occasions that individuals have left the Voëlklip baboon troop to enter town on their own.

This is according to a press statement by Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS), the organisation managing the virtual fence in partnership with Overstrand Municipality.

“The project has been effective in keeping the Voëlklip troop out of town and back in its own natural habitat for over 95% of the time, with positive implications for the surrounding ecosystem,” reads the statement. The virtual fence aims to keep troops in their natural habitats by mimicking natural boundaries and deterrents that the troop is too anxious to cross. “Anxiety for baboons is created by simulating sounds and smells associated with predators, creating an invisible psychological barrier. In the mountains above Hermanus, these sounds and smells are sometimes confused by baboons for real predators such as leopards,” says Dr Phil Richardson, HWS Project Manager.

“In addition, when the baboons do enter the town on occasion they do not travel as far into town as before.”

According to Richardson, beyond the reduction in human-wildlife conflict, there are other positive environmental benefits of baboons returning to their natural habitats, such as restoring the biodiversity of their ecosystems. “Recent camera traps and direct observations have revealed the presence of leopards within 2,5 km east and west of the ‘Drie Damme Kloof’ of the Mossel River just north of Hermanus. Past experience has shown that this kloof is the preferred sleeping site for the Voëlklip troop.

“The presence of real leopards in the area helps reinforce the threat of predators in the troop’s mind, working alongside HWS Virtual Fence. Leopards have a vast range and are probably resident in the area for a few weeks at a time, thereafter only returning months later. In the interim, HWS Virtual Fence keeps their presence, and fear of retribution, alive. It’s this incredible balance of biodiversity and unspoilt nature of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve that we strive to conserve,” he adds.

According to Richardson the baboons have a positive affect on the environment as they dig up bulbs, scratch through fynbos debris, eat flowers, fruits and berries and all of these behaviours assist seed dispersal and create the perfect microclimates for seed germination.

“Baboons have a key role to play in this environment, and for this reason the total removal of problematic troops is not considered. While occasional raiding does still occur, examination of some troop members when fitting GPS radio collars, has shown that they have healthy teeth and gums. This reveals that they are still feeding extensively on their natural diet of fynbos and that there is little evidence of consumption of too much human food,” says Richardson.

“Baboons have to learn – after many, many years of raiding – that humans no longer offer easy food. This vital change is only possible if every person plays a part in the management process. HWS Virtual Fence makes baboons wild animals again, restoring the natural balance,” concludes Richardson.

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