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THE NEED TO CREATE COST EFFECTIVE HARMONIOUS HUMAN-BABOON COEXISTENCE IN THE OVERSTRAND

On the 27th of July 2023, Mayor Rabie on behalf of the Overstrand Municipality published an announcement stating that the issue of the four problem male baboons in Pringle Bay has been discussed with Minister Bredell on the 15th of May 2023 and that Minister Bredell has undertaken the required action to remove the baboons from the area.

The EMS Foundation finds its increduclous tha the Overstrand municipality has attempted to relinquish to the MEC its responsibility for a hugely contentious, unscientific, unethical and unjustifiable decision. The fact is that there are not four problem baboons. Moreover, the removal of the entire adult male complement to the troop (or any troop) is unprecedented, unwarranted, unethical and with zero scientific support.

In response, the EMS Foundation addressed an open letter to Minister Bredell, MEC Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Western Cape on the 1st of August 2023.

PLEASE FIND A COPY OF THE FULL LETTER FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE:

Excerpts from the Open Letter sent to Minister Bredell:

In February 2023 the EMS Foundation co-published an extensive investigative report titled, Our Kin Discarded. The Report shows that current provincial and national government policies and actions are detrimental to the survival of various primate species. Furthermore, the report confirms that the trade in primates is poorly managed, ecologically damaging and unsustainable while simultaneously raising serious welfare, well-being and ecological concerns.

Challenging the currently held provincial attitude that baboons are of the lowest conservation concern, the EMS Foundation’s research points to the fact that the continued existence of the chacma baboon (including, but not limited to the local sub-species) is being threatened. Globally, habitat loss and trade are considered the main threats to primate conservation. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, 60% of primate species are threatened with extinction and about 75% have declining populations due to human activities.

With regard to the request to suspend the 2022 decision to remove male baboons from the Pringle Bay troop, environmental lawyers, Cullinan and Associates, acting on behalf of the EMS Foundation, sent an urgent communication which was addressed to the Executive Mayor of the Overstrand Municipality, representatives of the Baboon Management Joint Task Team, CapeNature and Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS) on the 24th of December 2022. Electronic copies of the removal decision and the reason therefore, including copies of all relevant information and documentation relevant to this decision-making process were also urgently requested.

On the 3rd March 2023, environmental lawyers, Cullinan and Associates, acting on behalf of the EMS Foundation addressed a second communication to the Overstrand Municipal Manager, Dean O’ Neill, and others regarding the decision to drive the entire troop of baboons out of Pringle Bay.

As a result, the EMS Foundation hereby urgently and formally requests copies of the scientific information, data and analysis upon which the aforementioned issue is based. The original questionable data on the so called problem male baboons is hopelessly out of date. Please bear in mind that the so-called ‘data’ which was presented by HWS, acting as the baboon management service provider to the Overstrand Municipality, has not and cannot be verified. We therefore reiterate that the decision must be rescinded in its entirety.

HWS was appointed by the Overstrand Municipality without a proper public participation process and with the controversial deviation from the tender process, despite warnings about their unpopular heavy-handed management methods which resulted in them losing their contract with the City of Cape Town Municipality.

On the 30th of May 2023, The EMS Foundation wrote to the Overstrand Municpality requesting an independent investigation into the aforementioned tenders totaling R30 997 913.50, some of which were awarded by the Overstrand Municipality through an unsubstantiated deviation process.

Despite this request, the Overstrand Municipality took the controversial decision in June 2023 to extend the contract of the service provider, HWS, until the 7th of December 2024 in the Hermanus area.

Furthermore, and of grave concern, the Overstrand Municipality and its representatives have still not been able to offer any valued response to the pressing contents of the aforementioned letter nor the subsequent letter sent on 24th July 2023. In particular, the reasons why, and the tangible proof of the emergency situations that were said to exist that resulted in deviations to the tender process.

Mayor Rabie, published an announcement on the 27th of July 2023 on Facebook. Due to their settings on the social media announcement, interested parties cannot submit any comments or concerns. The statement is rife with errors easily proven by consultation with their own website. In light of the serious nature of the contents of both letters sent to the Overstrand Municipality we are of the opinion, unfortunately, that this response is inadequate.

Similarly, some of the contents of the announcement are not correct, we draw your attention to the fact that two tenders for baboon management were delivered, and that it is not ‘NONE’, from the area described by Mayor Rabie as the West Namely NCC and KVET, whereas ‘NONE’ were submitted from the East where HWS now enjoy an extension to their contract of 18 months – 6 months past the due date of the OM/Province compactum for baboon management.

For the record, the concept of a virtual fence to restrict, control or minimize the movement of wild animals is not a new concept design. It cannot therefore be patented. The earliest virtual fences involved the placement of sensory deterrents or biological barriers that dissuade particular wildlife species from moving into or outside of a particular area. More recently, in 2009 proximity based sensors have been placed to deliver auditory or electronic cues that discourage wildlife movement. In 2003 the use of auditory frightening devices had a wide and important use in the creation virtual fences. Therefore it would be remiss of the Overstrand Municipality and CapeNature to believe that only one service provider could provide this service or technology. On the subject of cost effectiveness we note that NCC Environmental Services offered the Overstrand Municipality an opportunity of a competitively priced efficient virtual fence alternative. The virtual fence used on baboons has not been scientifically peer-reviewed, was observed to be ineffective on the Betty’s Bay troop and was not even deployed using the elaborate technology as advertised by HWS to secure the tender deviation.

The content of the social media announcement made by Mayor Rabie on the 27th of July 2023, has alerted us to a Section 106 investigation. The EMS Foundation has received a copy for the call for the investigation dated 21st December 2021 which was directed to the Minister’s office from the ratepayers and residents of Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooi Es. We hereby formally request the results of this investigation.

The EMS Foundation has on several occasions called upon the Overstrand Municipality and CapeNature to facilitate a transparent public participation process to address the current baboon human coexistence crisis in the Overberg Region of South Africa.

The current untenable situation between residents in Pringle Bay, highlighted on social media, is discouraging for international tourists and local inhabitants alike. It is extremely unfortunate to witness racist innuendos on the public anti- baboon platforms, where some people have used baboons to denigrate people and have even compared baboons to members of a South African political party.

The EMS Foundation and other stakeholders are still awaiting the announcement of an urgent stakeholder workshop to be held at the Overberg Municipality Council Chambers. Participants should include, among others, Members of the Compactum, the Municipal Officers and Representatives of CapeNature and the Department of Environment Affairs and Development Planning. The officials who developed and signed the Overstrand Strategic Baboon Management Plan and the officers who appointed the service provider HWS, without following proper public participation processes and despite the public outcry, should also be in attendance.

It is also deeply disappointing to note that decision makers in Government of the Western Cape, the Overstrand Municipality and CapeNature also fail to recognise or publicly acknowledge the cultural significance of the Chacma baboon.

Similarly, despite the important role baboons play in ecosystem services they are not specifically mentioned, in the preservation of the floral kingdom in the Koggelberg Biosphere Reserve or related public reading material. Scientific studies confirm that baboons not only experience emotions such as joy, fear, the bond of friendship, despair, and grief, they also play an essential role in ecosystems and biodiversity, contributing to ecosystem health and providing important functions and benefits such as seed dispersal, pollination, regeneration, and predator-prey relationships

Close attention should be paid to the ineffective strategy of baboon management by the HWS on the Cape Peninsula, with input from the same scientific advisors.

South African citizens are suffering after decades of corruption. Anything less than transparent, accountable and answerable government is not acceptable.

In addition, what is sorely required in the Overstrand is a more desirable, modern, humane, scientific and ethical approach which ensures harmonious coexistence and well-being. The goal is to achieve an outcome that protects the Overstrand baboons, enabling them to flourish naturally, and also present all the inhabitants, both human and non-human primates, of Rooi Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay, Kleinmond and Hermanus with peace of mind free of the vitriolic outbursts on social media.

Image Credit: Jenny Parsons

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