Conserving Ecosystems to Ensure a Healthy Environment
Chacma baboons have been part of the mosaic of life on the Cape Peninsula for over a million years, important ecosystem engineers in the fynbos biome, it is our responsibility to ensure their survival by reducing our impact on local environments and striving for sustainable coexistence
American International School of Cape Town – Service-Learning Concept
ARKYS Outreach has been chosen by the American International School of Cape Town (AISCT) as a service-learning partner for the students in second grade. They have decided to dedicate their year to the environment and, because they are specifically concerned about the lives of the local baboon troop, we conceptualised the “Adopt a Chacma Home Range” project. Together we will be looking for ways to mitigate our current impact on the home range of the Tokai Troop as well as long-term solutions to prevent further negative effects on this environment.
According to the American International Schools, the “Service-learning program enables students to actively engage in, lead and understand meaningful service by responding to genuine needs of the community. This will be achieved through the delivery of an integrated service-learning curriculum and the development of sustainable projects”.
“Working together we can help to solve problems by helping others in our school community, our neighbourhood, or around the world”.
Suggestions from the Students in Second Grade
Some of the suggestions from these students include:
- Helping baboons injured by people
- Not threatening or interfering with baboons
- Removing alien trees and planting indigenous species
- Educating the public about food waste
- Stop littering and community clean-ups
- Educating people about baboon home ranges and how little space they have
- Baboon-proofing bins, wine farms and communities
- Educating the public about what to do if they see a baboon in their house/garden/street
Background of Chacma Baboons on the Cape Peninsula
The southern chacma baboon (Papio ursinus ursinus) is wide-spread throughout South Africa but the Cape Peninsula has the unique privilege of having these animals living in close proximity to the urban environment. The flip side of this, however, is that an increasing human population and the resultant urban sprawl has fragmented their environment and is putting pressure on troops and their access to important resources such as habitat, food and water. This situation leads to an increase in human/baboon interactions which will have detrimental consequences. Baboons are attracted to urban areas because of the easy access to food and water, especially during the summer months and after fires. The food found in the urban environment lacks the nutritional benefits of natural foraging with most of these foods being high in sugars. When baboons forage naturally, they burn up energy by travelling as they eat but when they eat the urban diet, the food is all found in one place so there is no need to travel. One hour of urban bin pilfering equals one day of natural foraging. Habituation aside, a bad diet alone leads to health issues that this already compromised population can ill-afford. It is therefore imperative that these animals, like all wild animals, have sufficient natural habitat in which to live and forage with no reason for them to enter the urban areas.
There are currently 15 troops inhabiting the Cape Peninsula. The Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) division of SANParks manages and protects the natural heritage on the Cape Peninsula; often in open access/unfenced regions, within which ten of these troops fall. They are managed by the City of Cape Town through service provider NCC while the remailing five troops fall within the boundaries of the Cape Point section of the TMNP and are therefore managed by SANParks.
Ecosystem engineers are defined as “organisms that create, modify, maintain or destroy physical habitats in which they live or frequent, thereby substantially altering resources availability for other organisms”. Chacma baboons are such a species and contribute to the healthy functioning of ecosystems in the following ways…
Seed Dispersal – The chacma baboon eats many indigenous plant species and as a result spreads the seeds over large areas while travelling. After fires chacmas help with fynbos restoration by transporting seeds to barren, previously alien-infested areas post fire; reducing erosion.
Resource Access – Baboons are not wasteful eaters. They eat what they need and whatever is dropped is eaten by other (often smaller) species. For example: Baboons are able to wade into wetlands to grab juicy plants. They consume the lower section of the stem and discard the remains on the banks where it is then accessible to other animals.
Biogeomorphic Agent – As a rock-displacement species, baboons pick up and move rocks while foraging. This transforms the microhabitat landscape.
Soil Aeration – Digging in the soil for bulbs and roots loosens it and breaks it up. This increases the amount of oxygen available to microorganisms and burrowing animals as well as distributing nutrients and promoting root growth.
Alien Invasive Species – Chacmas eat several species of alien vegetation; crushing and digesting most of the seed. This prevents germination and slows the spread of invasives within their habitat.
Biodiversity – The presence of the chacma baboon species in its natural habitat increases the biodiversity (variability of life) of the region through its foraging behaviour. This vital role in the environment is lost when baboons are given access to unsecured human food sources, such as rubbish bins that have not been baboon-proofed.
Threats to Chacmas and their Habitat
- Alien invasive species reducing biodiversity
- Effects of alien vegetation on mountain streams and wetlands
- Human-induced attractants
- Habitat loss – Human encroachment
- Restricted access to natural vegetation
- Human-induced conflict (poison, electrocution, dogs, shooting, hot water, hot oil…)
Tokai Troop and their Home Range
There are five baboon troops inhabiting the northern reaches of the Cape Peninsula, their home ranges often overlapping, and their boundaries restricted by wine farms and forestry. Due to the location of the AISCT, the home range of the Tokai Troop will be adopted by the school’s second graders. This troop is the largest of the five northern troops with approximately 100 individuals and they spend much of their days in the grounds of the Chrysalis Academy and the Manor House. The Prinskasteel River runs through their home range, but its alien-infested banks restrict flow and limit biodiversity.
Adopt a Chacma Home Range Concept
The idea behind this project is to encourage communities fringing chacma home ranges to become involved in the conservation of the area; to explore, learn about and promote their local environment. By adopting a chacma home range you become a custodian of the range and all its natural features. You work to minimise conflict between the public and wildlife through education and wildlife-proofing drives. You run litter patrols and community clean-ups. You can monitor the health of local rivers and partner with your local SANParks Honorary Rangers to clear alien vegetation.
- Minimising Conflict (baboon-proofing, removal of attractants)
- Community Education (importance of biodiversity, baboons as ecosystem engineers, local natural heritage)
- Pollution (clean-ups, pollution prevention)
- Habitat Restoration (rivers and wetlands, alien clearing)
Elsje River Field Trip
We explored the Elsje River in Glencairn to study the human impacts on riverine and wetland habitats, and how these impacts affect the local chacma troop.
ARKYS Outreach Project Coordinator: Sally Sivewright