Dr Ben Cousins, a renowned social scientist and land expert who is assisting with this vexatious issue, presented on the Baboon Dialogues Initiative, which originated recently in Simons Town to facilitate respectful dialogue between residents affected by baboons, with a view to developing a consensus around a more effective baboon management approach for the Southern Peninsula.
The initiative has brought together scientists, academics, NGOs, the NCC and local government to address this pressing, complex and contentious issue.
As the peninsula has become more populated, baboons have become more habituated to humans and their presence has become increasingly problematic. While there are a range of viewpoints on and levels of sympathy for the baboons, it tends to be the most polarised among the population who make themselves heard. However there is also a large proportion of less vocal residents who may be sympathetic to the baboon issue but recognise that a change in the status quo is needed. The current baboon management plan was developed 20 years ago and formalised 10 years ago; however the situation is quite different from 20 years ago and therefore an updated approach is required. The Baboon Dialogue Initiative approach is three-fold:
1. Foster Dialogue: Create a space for calm discussion and develop listening skills to respects differing opinions. This is facilitate by an expert facilitator, Peter Willis.
2. Inform and Educate: Dr Cousins has developed a comprehensive resource pack on baboon science, with links to articles, research studies and all manner of baboon data (click here to view), and and host experts to present and answer questions from residents. These experts include scientists from UCT, management at NCC, independent researchers and city officials.
3. Engage with decision makers: The informal alliance has communicated with city officials to provide feedback on a strategic management plans, noting the lack of detail on timeframe and sense of urgency. A meeting has been requested with the Mayor.
Going forward, the Initiative plans to foster broader dialogue and engagement across the peninsula to develop a sustainable management plan that is fit for purpose. The contract for the NCC to monitor and manage the baboons is due to expire soon, and until recently there was no plan to renew this. Citizen pressure has resulted in the likely renewal of the contract for the coming 18 months with the same level of funding. This is due to be announced officially this week.
Action and planning is required now in order to have a new approach in place 18 months from now, when this contract will end. Experts all appear to agree that the most effective way forward would be strategically placed fencing. The capital for funding the fence will be more simple to obtain than the ongoing maintenance and operational costs. Different models need to be considered and consulted upon, including public private partnerships (PPPs) and an increased role for communities and residents.