Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS), who previously managed the virtual fence to keep baboons out of the Voëlklip area, has been appointed by the municipality to operate the programme in both Hermanus and Pringle Bay.

According to Liezl de Villiers, Senior Manager: Environmental Services of the Overstrand Municipality, they met with HWS last week to discuss the logistics and planning of the implementation of the programme in the two areas.

“We met with the Pringle Bay Baboon Action Group first because this community has been running with its own baboon management programme for the past two years and it is therefore easier and faster to start there immediately by just adopting the existing programme. The virtual fence will not be implemented in Pringle Bay at this stage and we will only be making use of baboon monitors,” said De Villiers.

According to her, planning for the Hermanus area also started last week and it was decided to first deploy an area manager from HWS to monitor the population dynamics and movement of the Hermanus troops, including their interaction with the Voëlklip and Hamilton Russell troops that are on the western and eastern boundaries of the Hermanus troop.

“The HWS area manager will monitor the interaction of the Hermanus troop’s baboons amongst one another and how they move between the urban areas and their sleeping sites. He will also identify which animals need to be collared in order to effectively follow the movements of the animals and therefore successfully apply the virtual fence techniques,” she said.

The virtual fence is made up of a sophisticated radio transmitter system that relays the movements of a troop, via collars attached to the troop leaders, to a cellular phone. If a troop moves too close to a residential area, an alert is sent out and baboon monitors deploy sound boxes that emit sounds of predators roaring, animals dying and other frightening sound effects, including bear bangers that make a loud banging noise.

A three-week blitz by HWS in August 2017 resulted in keeping the Fernkloof troop out of the affected suburbs for more than 90% of the time.

De Villiers said it’s important to understand the movement of the troop so that the virtual fence can be implemented in such a way that all the affected areas of Eastcliff, Hermanus Heights, Hermanus Golf Course, the surrounding urban precincts and Voëlklip will benefit from it.

Cooperation crucial to tackling baboon problem

“The monitoring stage will last between three and four weeks. During this time the identified troop leaders will be captured and collared so that the programme can be implemented from November 2019,” De Villiers said.

“In the meantime, HWS will advertise the posts for baboon supervisors and monitors and appoint local members from our community in order to implement the virtual fence. They will also begin to procure all required tools and equipment for the project, including an on-site office and hotline for the effective management of the virtual fence.”

HWS and the Overstrand Municipality will also meet with representatives of the Hermanus Baboon Action Group (HBAG), CapeNature and the University of Cape Town to discuss the roll-out of the programme.

Hermanus Baboon Action Group (HBAG) spokesperson, Pat Redford is positive about the appointment of HWS to provide baboon monitoring services to the Overstrand.

“HBAG will be part of the team meeting regularly with HWS, Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve and CapeNature to add support as the programme evolves. This is a welcome advancement after HBAG submitted numerous documents, petitions and evidence to the various authorities, reflecting the frustration of thousands of residents affected in particular by the Voëlklip troop.

“Residents in the affected areas have experienced constant home invasions and extensive damage has been caused by the large Voëlklip troop. The troop has become increasingly habituated to suburbia and troop size has increased significantly over the past three years,” said Redford.

Easy access to human-derived food has caused the troop to spend most of their waking hours in high-density suburbia, a pattern of behaviour not previously witnessed. Foraging in Fernkloof Nature Reserve’s abundant natural bounty is what would be “normal behaviour” for these wild animals. The increase in the number of permanent residents and the increased use of holiday homes has incrementally increased the amount of refuse and the availability of human-derived food.

“As Hermanus already has infrastructure such as the beacons and virtual fence system installed, only collaring and daily monitoring are required to make a real difference. HBAG and HWS agree that it is unreasonable to expect wild baboons to peacefully coexist with humans in high-density suburbia. Other areas with a far lower density of homes with few permanent residents are less affected and more tolerant, as the baboons face fewer hazards and are not as habituated to human-derived foods as a result,” said Redford.

For information regarding the implementation of the project, contact Cllr Kari Brice at kbrice@overstrand.gov.za or the Environmental Office of the municipality. HBAG can be contacted on info@hermanusbaboons.co.za.

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