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Monkey business

By Lisa Witepski

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Often, it’s the reserve-like setting of a lifestyle estate that makes it a draw card for residents. But what happens when nature starts encroaching on households?

Picture it: You’re in the kitchen, minding your own business as you stir the sugar into your tea, when you feel eyes boring into the back of your head. You turn around to find an inquisitive vervet monkey sitting on the kitchen table staring at you as intently as you’re staring at it.

It may seem like a scenario straight from Out of Africa, but it’s also not unheard of on lifestyle estates – which is why Audrey Delsink, Wildlife Director at the Humane Society International in Africa, says that it’s vital that every developer conduct a thorough environmental impact assessment (EIA) before embarking on a construction project. ‘This is imperative, because it helps foster an understanding of the environment as a habitat, and how populations function in this area. This, in turn, should inform how the development is designed and how construction progresses.’

Once the estate is up and running, there are other considerations that must be taken into account. After all, animals won’t stay away from an area simply because there are humans living there. On the contrary, says Emily Taylor, project coordinator of the People in Conservation Unit at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, ‘Adapting to living in close proximity to humans has reduced many species’ fear.’ Increased interaction is an inevitable outcome, and is not always unintentional – think of the times you have left food out for birds or even monkeys, for example. What is unintentional, however, is the conflict that this almost always results in, especially when these species become accustomed to such behaviour. Cape Town’s bold baboons are a case in point, Taylor says. Having for decades been the target of well-meaning but ignorant tourists who feed them, the baboons on the routes to some of the Cape Peninsula’s most scenic spots have learned to open car doors. They haven’t learned to drive yet, so they don’t hijack the cars, just the picnic baskets and anything else that’s left lying around – handbags, cameras, laptops.

This is why it’s important for estates to make residents aware of potential hazards they may encounter, and how they should deal with the animals in question, says Chris McDonald, who is responsible for environmental and security issues at Brettenwood Coastal Estate. ‘For example, monkeys are common on our estate. We remind residents to leave all windows and doors closed, and to keep all food – especially fruit – locked away. These animals are opportunistic; it’s much easier to steal your slice of pawpaw than to search for their own berries, so it’s better to prevent any possible problems in the first place. For that reason, we also remind residents not to leave food out for birds.’ Taylor’s suggestions for minimising the problem include restricting access by sealing all holes in walls and ceilings, and filling any gaps under external doors. It’s also a good idea to keep plants away from open windows – that way, there’s nothing to give agile primates a leg up.

This is also why effective waste management is a must. Says Taylor: ‘Accessible waste products are one of the main reasons baboons and monkeys are attracted to estates. Keeping the property clean and tidy, and ensuring that bins and other waste receptacles are sealed and inaccessible to animals, will go a long way to relieving pest issues.’ Delsink recommends storing refuse bags in a locked, caged area, or investing in primate-proof bins.

McDonald adds that the monkeys rarely present a real threat to human safety, although they do tend to be a little boisterous. ‘They seem more likely to follow women and children, perhaps because they can sense that they are more nervous. Our advice is to back away slowly if you see a monkey or, if you’re scared, to make sure that you don’t walk alone. You can also spray the animals with a hose if you feel they are too close.’ Of course, an adult male baboon is a different matter – they can weigh up to 50-odd kilos and, while not usually aggressive, can be extremely dangerous if cornered. But, says Taylor, it’s not always humans who are at risk. ‘Although pests can cause problems for home owners, and for indigenous wildlife, some methods of pest control have severe negative consequences in the form of ground, water and air pollution, or even indirect poisoning of people and wildlife. It is therefore important that developers and home owners take a balanced and considered approach to pest control, taking into account all knock-on effects of each control method, and weighing up all costs and benefits. It is always preferable to go for prevention rather than cure, and there are many alternative, less harmful pest control techniques available.’

Delsink concurs, emphasising that, with a little bit of research, it’s possible to live in harmony with nature rather than fighting against it. ‘For example, bats and owls are extremely efficient at keeping pesky rodents in check, and their presence can enhance an estate’s ecosystem considerably. It’s worth contacting a company like EcoSolutions, which can install and maintain owl boxes or bat hotels at the correct height to ensure that they are not in danger from cats and other small predators.’

Delsink also recommends, placing beehives on estates, as these will improve plant and animal life while providing a home for bees. But that will only work if you have sufficient space. In some cases, wild bees may create a nest in an inconvenient – or even dangerous – area, in which they case they may need to be removed. In situations like this, it’s best to contact a beekeeper, who can safely and efficiently capture the bees, and transfer them to a place where they will be more than welcome.

Worried about snakes? McDonald says that Brettenwood’s way of dealing with this issue has centred on training security officers on how to remove the reptiles, so that they can be relocated in an area of the estate that is far from residences.

‘If all else fails, it’s best to call a professional to come and assist you to remove the trouble-makers,’ Taylor concludes.

Who to call

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