On the Cape Peninsula there are few people who are neutral towards the local Chacma baboons: you either love them or hate them. The remnant troops of the Table Mountain National Park which now protects a large portion of the peninsula, range from the southern table of Table Mountain down to Cape Point. They form an isolated population surrounded by an urban conurbation in the north-east and the ocean elsewhere. Experts estimate that the 250 or so remaining animals face extinction within 10 years as their habitat shrinks, their gene pool becomes less viable and they suffer persecution from the human inhabitants of the peninsula. A few weeks ago we went “walking with baboons” in the Glencairn area with the guide from Baboon Matters, an NGO that runs a Baboon Monitoring Project. The project aims to prevent conflict between humans and baboons. Baboon Matters is part of a larger Baboon Management Team (BMT) that comprises SA National Parks, Cape Nature, KEAG, the Baboon Research Unit, other NGOs, primatologists, etc. and whose objective is to ensure the long-term conservation of baboons on this beautiful, but contested, sliver of land.

Cape Peninsula baboon distribution

Cape Peninsula baboon distribution (source: Baboon Matters)

Getting close to the Da Gama Park troop as they descended from their roosts to feed was an enlightening and humbling experience. Unconcerned by our presence, they proceeded to play, groom, mate, gather food and noisily sort out a few hierarchical issues. We spent most of the morning with them and our garrulous and informative guide.


National Geographic recently did a piece on these baboons in which some telling points are made:

Many residents of the Cape see the primate as a pest.

But the founder of Baboon Matters says what many humans forget, is that baboons gave their lives for medical research.

Jenni Trethowan, Founder Baboon Matters “And now where’s the gratitude? People can have heart transplants, and liver transplants and kidney transplants, what do we owe back to the animals that we practiced on for so long?”

My view on the matter is that given that the Cape Peninsula is a national park and world heritage site, if you choose to live there then you should recognise that you are living a) in a fire-driven ecology and b) in proximity to wild animals. This isn’t suburbia in the usual sense; it requires a sense of place, a spirit of custodianship and a willingness to adapt. There will be fires near your house every decade or so. The baboons will come calling – they were there first after all. Adapt your living arrangements to live in harmony with the place and its traditional inhabitants.