Up Close and Personal with Baboons

A baboon chewing on something eatable.
Baboons raiding dumpsters in a neighborhood near Cape Town.
A baboon grabbing a flyer from a car window.
A lone baboon sitting beside an outdoor seating overlooking the ocean on the Cape Peninsula.
Baboons hugging each other.

Contrary to the restrained African penguin, covered in another chapter, Cape baboons sneaking up on people may not merely want to take a look. Instead, baboons are often intent on snagging any edible items Cape residents have out of their hands or bags. Few wild animals are as brazen and as unafraid of humans as baboons are, and as a consequence, not even guarding your food closely guarantees that the monkeys are going to leave you and your food alone.

Opportunistic and smart

For all their brazenness, though, baboons have not always gone after humans’ food. Instead, traditionally, baboons have lived in rural areas feeding on plants and smaller animals. Sprawling urban developments, however, over time, have allowed them to come in contact with humans and discover the abundance of food that humans have. As a result, baboons now often opportunistically seek out popular picnic spots, parking spaces and residential areas where they think an easy meal can be had. Here, their cunningness and boldness, quite spectacularly, sometimes lead them to go so far as opening closed car doors to see what edible items they can find inside the vehicles.

Visits by baboon troops, such as in parking spaces and in residential areas, elicit different reactions from people depending on the situation. Those who seldom see the animal might get excited or scared, while others — especially those who regularly encounter baboons around their homes — often feel frustrated. The home owners’ frustration stems from the monkeys’ smarts and agility, which allow them to pry open windows and climb into houses, even when openings seem too small. Once inside, the baboons then usually turn the houses upside down in search of goodies, which is why properly locking doors and windows to keep baboons out has become an obsession for Cape inhabitants living near baboon habitats.

Making friends with baboons

Still, as frustrating as baboon visits can be, one has to remember that the animal only acts on instinct and is not out to harm people. In recognition of this, government policy is to not become violent with the baboons, but instead pursue non-violent methods to keep them away from urban areas. Furthermore, with the understanding that animals only act on instinct in mind, not everybody is upset with baboons coming into residential areas, and a few inhabitants even seek to make friends with them. The charming monkeys, as Cape residents trying to befriend baboons have learned, like to interact with people, and if shown true affection, may become touchy-feely and even cuddly with humans. Nevertheless, baboons are wild animals of a respectable size and strength, so one ought to be very cautious in dealing with them.