Tracking collars reveal baboons' raiding tactics in Cape Town

08 November 2017 - 18:12 By Timeslive
Image: Dr Gaëlle Fehlmann

Researchers have discovered that canny baboons use a “sit-and-wait tactic” before raiding people’s homes in search of food in Cape Town.

Scientists from the University of Cape Town are part of an international team who used bespoke tracking collars to monitor the movements of 10 male baboons via GPS and accelerometer sensors.

“Raiding baboons are a real challenge in the Cape Peninsula. The baboons enter properties to raid in gardens and bins‚ but also enter homes and sometimes take food directly from people”‚ said professor Justin O’Riain‚ director of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa at UCT and co-author of the study‚ published by Scientific Reports.

Previous studies had revealed that some male baboons were still finding their way into urban spaces‚ despite a city baboon management strategy adopted to keep them away.

Dr Gaëlle Fehlmann‚ lead author of the study‚ said: “People assume the baboons don’t have enough food in their natural habitats and therefore have no choice but to forage in town.

In fact‚ our research shows there is plenty of food in the natural environment where there is very little risk of the baboons being disturbed by anyone. In contrast‚ the chances of human-baboon conflicts in urban areas are high‚ but so are the food rewards‚ which are 10 times richer in terms of calories”.

Data collected from the tracking collars revealed that male baboons were staying at the city edge‚ engaging in short but intense forays to urban areas when opportunity presented itself‚ similar to a sit-and-wait strategy‚ said a statement issued by UCT on Wednesday.

Dr Andrew King‚ head of Swansea University’s Shoal group and senior author of the study‚ added: “We suspected the baboons were doing something clever to allow them to minimise the risks associated with urban foraging‚ and the data collected from the collars confirmed this.”

Dr Fehlmann said: “Our results present unequivocal evidence of extreme behavioural flexibility in these baboons.

"Behavioural flexibility has long been considered a central component of a species' ability to cope with human-induced environmental changes‚ but has been difficult or impossible to quantify in wild animal populations. The new tracking technologies employed by the researchers are changing this.”

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