I want to share a story and press release that I was just made aware of regarding a situation here in Cape Town. There have been many fires raging and the animals quite often fall victim to these horrific acts of arson. Please read the story of Phoenix and let me & the city of Cape Town & all of those involved know what you think. What should have been done and what can be done to prevent this in the future? Please see the Baboon Matters site on Facebook for more details on how this story unfolded. It’s extremely sad and disheartening. We must put programs into place to prevent unnecessary pain and deaths in the future. The animals are depending on us.
OUTRAGE OVER YOUNG BABOONS’ AVOIDABLE DEATH
Baboon Matters has called for an urgent meeting with officials of the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park and the Cape of Good Hope SPCA following the death of a juvenile baboon, Phoenix, who was injured in a fire in Da Gama Park on 11th January.
The plight of the young baboon ignited outrage on social media, with the story being followed by around 100 000 people.
Baboon Matters had alerted the Cape of Good Hope SPCA and baboon monitor service provider HWS to the rapidly deteriorating health of Phoenix on 15th January. On the 17th January the Baboon Technical Team (made up of SANParks, City of Cape Town and Cape Nature) issued a statement that said the juvenile was riding on its mother’s back and feeding well, and that City of Cape Town vet Dr Dorothy Breed had assessed that the juvenile was “displaying normal behaviour”.
Says Baboon Matters founder, Jenni Trethowan, “It was abundantly clear to us two days prior to this statement that the little girl was struggling. For a baboon that age to be riding on its mother’s back is a sign that something is wrong, not that it is doing well. We believe a more accurate description was that she was hanging limply on her mother’s back.”
On the 18th January Cape of Good Hope SPCA posted on social media that following another assessment by their wildlife inspector and HWS staff, they believed Phoenix was doing well and not in distress. Trethowan had requested joining this assessment but was denied. At this point Baboon Matters mobilized their considerable support base to put pressure on the authorities, and City of Cape Town capitulated and allowed Trethowan to accompany the CGHSPCA wildlife inspector and HWS staff for another assessment on 21st January.
Says Trethowan, “It was immediately clear to me that the Phoenix’s condition had rapidly deteriorated. She had lost fingers and toes off her burnt hand and foot, had lost weight and was appeared to be severely dehydrated. She must also have been in excruciating pain.”
Later that morning HWS issued a statement that the juvenile’s condition had deteriorated, and that the authorities would need to decide on a way forward, and on 22nd January the City of Cape Town informed the public that she had taken a turn for the worse overnight, and had passed away.
“The situation has been heartbreaking and infuriating on many levels. Why was my initial assessment ignored and the considerable collective experience of the Baboon Matters Trust discounted? I have 25 years hands-on experience with Cape Town’s baboons and Baboon Matters’ Trustees include a primatologist and a veterinarian, among others. If the authorities had acted, instead of obfuscating, this little girl could have been saved. It was only through sheer public pressure that the City agreed to CGHSPCA’s request that I be allowed to accompany officials on the final assessment.”
One reason given by the authorities that they didn’t remove Phoenix for medical care was that they believed this would habituate her to humans and make her ‘unreleasable’. Says Trethowan, “Baboon Matters has captured, provided medical treatment and released many juvenile baboons successfully, but again, our experience was discounted. In addition, this girl was part of the Da Gama Park troop, arguably Cape Town’s worst raiding troop and therefore already the most habituated baboons on the Peninsula. To suggest that medical treatment would cause a juvenile of that age to go out and raid on her own is ridiculous.”
In the wake of the avoidable tragedy, members of the public have called for Baboon Matters to be allowed to sit on the Baboon Technical Team and be involved in all decision making around baboons moving forward.