Baboon activists and roleplayers in the timber industry have seemingly reached an impasse in finding a solution to the problem of baboons damaging plantations, reports the Lowvelder.
Damage inflicted by baboons that strip the bark off trees, resulting in the trees dying, costs the industry millions of rands every year and threatens the sustainability of the forestry industry.
Wildlife activists are now up in arms over allegations that baboons are being culled in an “inhumane way” by being baited, trapped and shot in timber plantations around Sabie.
They have called on the minister of environmental affairs to intervene.
Forestry South Africa (FSA) reacted by saying its members have encountered an alarming increase in damage to commercial timber plantations and that economic losses are severe.
There is no evidence that the bark offers baboons any nutritional value, and it is believed that the stripping of the bark is centred on the stress they experience when their populations become too large.
To control the damage, a protocol to approach culling in a scientific way was set by the industry in the late 1990s. It has been revised several times, and has come under renewed scrutiny by industry players.
Among the recommendations made by well-known green issues television personality and wildlife consultant, Dave Pepler, is that the shots be placed in the brain, heart, or spinal column, and that high-powered hunting rifles be used.
Activists argue that the enforcement of the protocol is not transparent and therefore open for abuse.
Levett Prins, a baboon activist, took Lowvelder to areas around Ceylon, home to a troop of 23 baboons, as well as the areas around the Mac Mac Pools outside Sabie.
He said shotgun pellets were picked up at a scene where baiting, trapping and shooting took place. This was in contravention of the protocol.
Pierre van der Walt, a former policeman living in Sabie, claimed the protocol was ignored by some contractors.
“Rogue contractors are employed as baboon shooters and make money out of the animals’ misery,” he said.
During a visit to the Sabie plantations, he showed Lowvelder a baboon graveyard containing the skeletons of more than 100 animals.
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Contractors employed by timber companies dumped the carcasses after trapping and shooting them. Among the skulls and bones were those of baby baboons, as were skulls with bullet holes in the jaw.
Piet van Zyl, CEO of York Timbers and a member of Baboon Damage Working Group (BDWG), denied that the industry controlled baboons outside of the protocol.
“The indsutry fully subscribe to Forestry South Africa (FSA) protocols,” he said.
He emphasised that the industry stakeholders continued to work together to find ethical solutions to upgrade the protocol, for which various forestry companies contributed funding for research.
One of the contractors, Ian Du Toit, who has been employed for several years by many (including state-owned) timber firms, said the Act was clear on the shooting.
“We must shoot the baboon with the permission of the owner, and we must shoot problem animals. It is my honest opinion that this is the only way to go,” he said.
Foresters want activists to make use of established structures to find a solution.
Michael Peter, executive director of FSA, said that activist groups such as Baboon Matters declined to take part in future meetings of the BDWG, which remained the formal structure to address the issue.
Philip Owen, a committed conservationist of the activist group Geasphere, indicated that BDWG’s activities did not inspire confidence due to some members’ vested interests in the industry.
Van der Walt proposed a non-lethal solution. He wants the industry to create a baboon sanctuary in the non-productive areas like close to the Edna-waterfall. “All we ask that the troops are given their rightful place in the grass fields around Sabie,” he said.
– Caxton News Service