The HBS hosted the much anticipated baboon talk by Joselyn Mormile on Friday 22 June. The packed-to-capacity hall gave an indication of the interest in the subject and the Q&A afterwards revealed the various concerns in the community. (The glass of excellent wine at the door may have had something to do with the turnout as well.)
Joselyn’s PowerPoint presentation discussed the preliminary findings of her interdisciplinary PhD work on the Rooiels baboon troop. She briefly covered their social system, diet, spatial ecology and an interesting graph showing no real rise in the troop size over a 15-year period. In this particular troop, road-kills are keeping their numbers in check. Other surprises were the misinterpreted facial expressions. Baboons communicate primarily through body gestures and facial expressions, the most noticeable (and misunderstood) being the submissive fear-face which involves pulling the mouth back in what looks like a wide toothy grin. Joselyn pointed out that if a dog did that it would be interpreted as a threatening snarl whereas the baboon is showing submission & fear. An aggressive or threatening baboon uses an eyelid signal – raising eyebrows and revealing pink skin.
Regarding the human-baboon conflict and coexistence, it is very clear that the individual has to adapt their lifestyle and take certain measures to baboon-proof their homes; baboon-proof latches, window bars, trellidoors and special bins to mention but a few.
The heart of the problem is that baboons get easy rewards foraging in urban environments and as their home ranges diminish we can expect to encounter them more and more in our living space.