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Tourists blamed for rampaging baboons

BABOONS seeking snacks are breaking into tourists' cars in South Africa, and authorities have threatened to fine visitors who give them food and encourage their aggressive pursuit of bananas and sandwiches.

There has been a spate of cases where baboons stole picnics and snatched bags from people in tourist spots around Cape Town.

In one recent incident, baboons jumped into the car of American visitors who were taking pictures at the side of the road.

Yesterday, the city of Cape Town and conservationists voiced alarm that some tour operators were apparently deliberately baiting the baboons, despite numerous signs warning against feeding the animals.

"Any tour operator caught doing so can be charged under national conservation legislation," city official Piet van Zyl said.

"We appeal to the public to exercise extreme caution in interacting with baboons. Under no circumstances should they ever feed the animals, and should they do so they can be similarly charged."

Fanie Bekker, executive director of Cape Nature, said people faced a maximum fine of 1,500 rands (US$150) or six months in prison, or both - depending on the severity of the offense. He said authorities would actively seek to penalize those who broke the law.

There are around 340 baboons in 20 to 30 troupes around Cape Town. They are a protected species under South African legislation, but their persistent pursuit of food often leads to conflict.

National park rangers have had to kill problem baboons that have become too aggressive, but there have been no recent cases of a baboon attacking a person.

At one restaurant area monitors crack whips to scare baboons away.

City and parks authorities are to hold a "baboon summit" soon to try to come up with solutions. The emphasis would be on trying to educate people to behave more responsibly rather than to control the baboons.

"It's not the baboons who are the problem," Brett Myrdal, manager of Table Mountain National Park, said.


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