Baboons get bad press ... but in encounters with humans they almost invariably come off second best

We were at Cape Point nature reserve, just to walk down to the beach and idle away the Sunday. The baboons were wandering around, several meters away, as usual. You don't feed them. They get used to it and get aggro when they don't get their own way. Some damn fool tourist always does anyway.

Anita had opened the boot of the car, taking out food and snacks. The next thing we knew, a large male had bounded up and perched on the lip of the boot right behind Anita's back. He immediately reached in and picked up a bottle of iced tea in each little hand and bounded a few paces back, using his brown hairy arms as extra legs.

I eyed him very warily, thinking of something to do, my heart racing - those teeth are almost as long as my thumb, and he's supposedly an even match for a leopard. I didn't want to mix it up with that bastard. Stitches and rabies shots - no thanks.

Werner called nervously to Anita but by the time she turned, the baboon was away from her and she didn't see him.

He soon realised that his catch was inedible hard plastic to any animal that didn't know how to operate a screw top, and he put them down on the tarmac. He took another bound forward, and Anita screamed in surprise as he grabbed a large foil-pack of pretzels right out of her hands.

The warden was now strolling in our direction, holding a walking-stick. I wished I'd thought of the baboons and brought one. (They are bright enough to know that a human pointing a stick at them is bad news, but not bright enough to tell the difference between a walking stick and a boom-stick).

The baboon saw him and the stick and didn't wait, but bounded off into the bush, scaling the steep slope with inhuman ease. We could see him, sitting on a rock down below about 20 meters away. He knew what to do with the packet. He had bitten right through the foil and plastic, and set it down and was picnicking on the pretzels. Damn. They were good pretzels - Honey and mustard.

I told the warder that I thought that particular baboon was in need of shooting. You can't blame a cunning opportunistic scavenger for being true to it's animal nature, but they can't unlearn what people teach them.

A lot of the time this troop comes out ahead, not second best, by raiding the humans' vast supplies of food. The humans don't learn, not at a tourist spot when it's different humans each day.

Here's what the Cape Point nature reserve pamphlet has to say on Baboons:

The Chacma baboon Papino Ursus troops on the Cape Peninsula are the only protected population of this species in Africa. They subsist on fruits, roots, honey, bulbs, insects and scorpions. During low tide, they may be seen roaming the beaches, feeding on sand hoppers and shellfish, behaviour believed to be unusual in primates. Please be aware that baboons can be dangerous and are attracted by food. Visitors must not feed or tease them. Baboons that have been conditioned to receive food from humans may have to be destroyed.

DO keep a safe distance from baboons
DO move away slowly if a baboon approaches you
DO NOT display food when baboons are visible
DO NOT open the doors or windows of your car when baboons are present
DO NOT feed baboons. You will be fined.