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Invading Baboons Trouble South African Towns

Troops of baboons have been ransacking homes and frightening residents in small towns along the South African coast. Now humans are fighting back and killing the animals. Conservationists say the baboons cannot survive a war with humans. But locals say they're fed up.

In the town of Scarborough, hungry baboons are breaking into houses, raiding fridges and fruit bowls. Muscular 60-pound males are strong enough to lift a sliding door off its tracks. Adults are clever enough to send their babies through small windows to snatch food from the kitchen. They threaten businesses, too.

Doris De Swart runs The Mickey Mouse Trap, a tiny convenience store. She says she's been attacked by a baboon who ripped out a fistful of her hair. She's furious at people who defend the animals.

"Everbody says 'Oh, they were here first,'" she says. "OK, fine, they were here first. But they can't live in between the humans. They got to be in the wild."

In the space of ten days in May, four baboons were shot in Scarborough. One pregnant female was found on the front steps of someone's house, riddled with pellets. She survived, but her fetus did not.

The ongoing conflict disturbs and divides the community. Many people say the baboons are turning more brazen with each passing year.

Edna Joubert's collie dog, Mia, cornered a large male baboon in the family bedroom. The dog paid with her life. But Joubert says having baboons in town is what makes life in Scarborough distinctive.

Jenni Trethowan is a conservationist with a group called Baboon Matters. As she drives through the streets of a Cape Peninsula town called Welcome Glen, Trethowan notes that humans can do much to discourage the baboons without killing them.

She says people have to cut down fruit trees, lock up their garbage cans, and keep their windows closed so baboons will go back to the nearby reserve and forage for food there.

Trethowan also supervises a three-man team of baboon chasers. Shouting, clapping and waving sticks, they drive troops of the animals out of town and back into the mountains. One-fifth of the residents of Welcome Glen contribute a small monthly fee to pay for the squad.

But Trethowan says the baboons won't stay away for long... and then the real trouble starts.

"The residents get so angry with the situation that then often the guns come out and they start shooting the baboons," she says.

Most residents say they're unwilling to give up the very things that drew them to this region surrounded by nature... even if those things prove irresistible to baboons.

Even after Mia the collie's death, Joubert keeps her doors flung open wide.

"If you live by the sea, you must have air," she says. "If the baboon comes in and he takes an orange or avocado pear, I mean, so what? You can't keep your doors closed all the time."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Amy Costello