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Organisation in the Spotlight: Baboon Matters

Written by: diannem

Many South Africans - and tourists - are quite familiar with the baboon populations of the Cape, and most of us have experienced some kind of run in with them while visiting the Western Cape.

Unfortunately, these majestic animals are coming more and more into contact with humans, because of spacial conflict, and this is causing a lot of problems for them. This is where Baboon Matters come in:

For more than 25 years Baboon Matters has been at the forefront of baboon conservation – in the face of this ever-increasing urbanization and intensive agriculture, and the resulting escalation in baboon/human conflict.

We caught up with Kathy Kelly, to find out a little more about the organisation, the team and baboons behind it, and what you can do to get involved!

What inspired the launch of Baboon Matters as a welfare organisation?

In 1990, following the culling of an entire troop of baboons in Kommetjie, Jenni Trethowan and Wally Peterson formed theKommetjie Environmental Awareness Group (KEAG). Through the efforts of KEAG, the Baboon Management Team was started, which essentially involved all the relevant authorities to find management options for resolving conflicts between humans and baboons on the southern peninsula of Cape Town.

KEAG successfully lobbied for the protected status of baboons on the Peninsula, which made it an offence to hunt them. KEAG grew to encompass a broad range of activities and initiatives including alien clearing, beach clean ups, permaculture gardening (in its infancy at the time) and extensive environmental campaigns.

In 2001, Jenni left KEAG to start Baboon Matters, which at the time focussed exclusively on issues affecting the Peninsula’s baboons and included creating extensive awareness for the plight of Cape Town’s baboons, and educating residents on how to live alongside baboons without conflict.

"Jenni Trethowan, our founder, has dedicated the last 25 years of her life to advocating for the ethical treatment of baboons – initially in Cape Town but more recently throughout the rest of South Africa where baboons do not have protected status and are hunted and killed with impunity. Her commitment has earned her numerous awards, and she has published two books."

Kathy Kelly, Baboon Matters

You mention on your website that you work in advocacy, training and awareness and rescue. What do each of these functions involve?

Advocacy: We see our role as providing oversight into the way baboons are treated in Cape Town, using our extensive social media following to put pressure on the authorities when required. We also intervene in situations in the rest of the country where baboons are in crisis – one example is our intervention recently in the pine plantations around Sabie in Mpumalanga, where thousands of baboons have been slaughtered. Our investigation led to an expose which was featured on Carte Blanche, and we are continuing to put pressure on the South African forestry industry to find non-lethal solutions for managing baboons in the pine plantations. Most of the time we feel like David taking on Goliath!

Training: We provide training to communities or individuals who are experiencing conflict with baboons, giving them the tools to manage the problem humanely. Our in-depth, week-long baboon monitor training course encompasses understanding baboon behavior and troop dynamics, identifying and counting baboons, record-keeping, creating strategies for effective management, and map reading amongst other skills. It is always our intention when training monitors that these men be equipped with skills they can build on to create a meaningful career-path for themselves.

Awareness: The majority of South Africans are not aware of the crisis facing baboons, and through our work we aim to provide a voice for our primate cousins. Ever-increasing urbanization and more intensive agriculture bring humans and baboons into conflict, and the traditional response has been to just kill them.

Rescue: Many hundreds of infant baboons are orphaned through hunting or culling each year - some are lucky enough to be adopted by other females in their troop, but most die. While there are no sanctuaries or rehab facilities in Western Cape, we work closely with Prime Crew in Limpopo and when we are able to obtain permits for relocating infants, we will facilitate their move to Prime Crew. There is a great need for more facilities such as this because there are obviously limits to how many baboons each can accommodate and provide a good quality of life for.

"We have been trying to educate communities for more than 20 years, yet poor waste management is still the main reason baboons and humans come into conflict in urban areas. Our biggest challenge is that we simply don’t have the resources to do all the work that needs to be done."

Kathy Kelly, Baboon Matters

Do you have an incredible moment that has affected you and kept you going in the most difficult times? What keeps you going?

We are encouraged by the small victories, and by the growing number of South Africans who are concerned about the well-being of these animals. I think Jenni’s absolute determination and commitment stems from the days when she started Baboon Matters, when there was a more tolerant attitude to our baboons. Working in the field with them every day, she developed real connections with these animals. Many people had beautiful experiences with baboons - some of these stories are featured on our website.

"Our message is that baboons have an intrinsic right to exist, and that humans can no longer just wipe out species that may be inconveniencing them. It is possible for humans and baboons to live alongside each other peacefully, but it requires some effort on our part – securing your waste, baboon-proofing your home, or employing monitors to limit damage to crops on farms. This requires a different way of thinking about baboons – seeing them as primates just like us, who have strong family bonds, who love and grieve loss just like we do. Our awareness work, through social and mainstream media or educating residents through talks, attempts to facilitate this change in mindset."

Kathy Kelly, Baboon Matters

Watch the video below to find out more about the work Baboon Matters does:

There are many ways the public can support the work that Baboon Matters does – from liking their Facebook page to keep informed, to nominating us them as a beneficiary on the MySchool Card program, to purchasing a Baboon Matters bag at Woolworths stores nationwide, or making once-off or monthly donations.

We also need the support of the corporate community in Cape Town. Our funding situation is pretty dire, like many charity organisations in this country, and we now urgently need assistance if we are to continue our work.

Kathy Kelly, Baboon Matters


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