Fynbos (pronounced "fine-boss") is an Afrikaans word meaning "fine bush." This is a type of plant community that is completely unique to the Western Cape. There are six "floral kingdoms" on Earth and the Cape Floristic Region which is ONLY found at the very southern tip of South Africa! So, you see, the other floral regions cover massive geographic ranges (like all of the northern hemisphere is one) and the Cape Floristic Region is teeny tiny geographically but huge in terms of diversity. There is a lot of fynbos in the reserves but it is highly endangered due to land conversion for farming/development and invasive species so there is little fynbos outside of reserves, I think.
|Photo from Cape Times (7 June 2012)|
The "problem" is one part baboon behavior and one part human behavior! Baboons are really smart, omnivorous, and very adaptable. So they can each just about anything and are easily able to change their foraging patterns to get what they want. Now, I'm not sure I'd say that is a problem- as a primatologist, this is one of the reasons I am so interested in them! But it contributes to conflict between people and baboons. So when people don't properly dispose or secure their garbage or they leave their doors and windows open, baboons will come to help themselves to whatever is on the table for breakfast or in your fridge. It can result in a lot of destruction but it can be avoided by modifying human behavior. Imagine living next to Yellowstone and leaving your garbage bags next to your house and your doors open. It is like an invitation for bears or raccoons to come and have an easy snack.
|Hey, Boo-Boo! Leaving food out is as good an invitation as any !|
Anyway, part of my research examines baboon troops that live near humans and use human foods so this will be easy to find. The other half is a comparison with a group that forages primarily on fynbos. Nick's entire project focuses on a group that forages in fynbos. This part has been rather challenging to find. After our big meeting, we gave ourselves a 2 week period to see the different places where the baboons are living and decide where we want to focus on.
First, we visited the vineyards. We had actually seen the baboons here one day when we were driving around to familiarize ourselves with the area. On this day, our contact guy drove us all around the vineyard to show us where the baboons come in and described at length what kinds of problems they have.
|"I enjoy the aromas of a nice pinot noir"|
Next, we visited up a little town called Caledon. Here, they have a lot of conflict with the baboons. Not an entire troop, but individual baboons coming towards town, a garbage dump, and a nearby a township called Myddleton. People in this township take some pretty extreme actions against the baboons including (we are told) throwing hot water on them :( I couldn't work here because there is no way I could stay objective. It is too horrible. There is a desperate need for management here but that isn't my job either. While we were up here, we also visited a nature reserve (Greyton) to find a fynbos group of baboons.
This would probably be a good location for a comparative group but large parts of the vegetation had burned in the last year so there was very little fynbos.
|It looked like we had stepped into a sci fi novel.|
I mean, this place was crispy. If there were baboons around, they were not anywhere we could see. And, really, there would be nothing for them to eat. Like I said, fynbos is a fire-adapted vegetation. It needs fire in order to disperse seeds. The optimal period for fynbos to burn is on a 12 year cycle. Apparently, the fynbos burns way too often in the Overberg (and probably elsewhere) as a result of careless people throwing cigarette butts (they are called "stompies" here) out the window, for example. So we left Caledon and Greyton feeling a little disappointed
|"Hey, Nick, where are the baboons?"|
|"I don't know but I'm kinda sad right now."|
Next, we visit a gorgeous reserve called Kogelberg Nature Reserve (KNR). We were both very excited to come here because it has a lot of gorgeous fynbos and it is next to a few little towns/villages where the baboons visit to forage sometimes. Thus, it would be a great location for both of our projects! KNR is massive...like 18,000 hectares. Here is little picture of the area from our map, including some of the surrounding communities where the baboons range.
The park manager told us that he didn't think there were any baboons in the reserve (or that there was one small group) but we still had to check. How do you go about finding a single troop of baboons in 18,000 hectares of space? You start walking.
|"There are baboons over there. I know it!"|
|A protea bloom about the size of my head!|
So we took a lovely 10 km hike in the reserve and but there were no baboons in sight. This was, although somewhat anticipated after we talked to the manager, very disappointing. Of course, we didn't cover a large area on our hike, but we hit up the majority of the low lying area in the reserve and the spots where there would be access to water. The groups that range into the urban area probably use the fringe of the reserve for sleeping and maybe some foraging but we found no indication that they are in KNR. Actually, we saw NO mammals and very few birds. Sort of confusing, considering the size of the reserve and the quality of some of the fynbos. I did find this hilarious little sign in the middle of the reserve, which reads "Emergency Exit."
|"Emergency Exit"... warning: you cannot conduct research here!|
Finally, we visited a little spot called Salmonsdam Nature Reserve. It is only about 830 hectares and its basically surrounded by farmland (mostly wheat and dairy pastures). I was very skeptical that we'd find anything here but we were getting a little desperate to find a reserve ranging group in the Overberg!
|Just heading into the "office"|
|"There are baboons in those hills and I will find them!"|
Almost immediately we saw very promising signs that we'd found a group including chewed up and pulled apart protea flowers and poop. Then we found the mother of all promising signs.... a footprint!
|Our very own Laetoli|
So we followed the trail a little while very quietly until I heard what sounded like somewhat munching down on vegetation. Then we heard a little infant scream and some contact calls between the male baboons (which sound a lot like a dog bark)! So we just stood and waited very quietly trying to hear what we could hear. Eventually we saw a couple of baboons cross the path into the VERY dense and tall (protea-dominated) fynbos.
|Listening for the troop.|
|Thank you, resident baboons of Salmonsdam Nature Reserve!|
We stayed with them for about half an hour before they went up a mountain slope away from us and we couldn't hear or see them anymore. I know it doesn't sound like much but this was a huge success for us. On our way back out we saw the troop again over on the other slope (see above). We finally got a quick look at just how big the troop is in terms of group size. We could do a count but I would guess over 50 but under 100. Very exciting!
So, now we may have a reserve troop but they are unhabituated and we've seen a lot of urban spaces where the baboons are visiting. The next step is to start following some of the urban groups and see what they're up to. We have also been invited to talk to a couple Rotary clubs and participate in a public meeting (observation only!) in one of the towns where the baboons and residents have conflict. I'll update again when there is more to say.
Keep well, everyone!