top of page

12 Baboons Rescued from Science Laboratory Have Been Released by C.A.R.E.


Thanks to the NSPCA - National Council of SPCAs 12 wild-caught baboons (Papio ursinus) were spared from the biomedical research industry and they were entrusted into our care last week for C.A.R.E. to organise their future.

We named this handsome young male chacma baboon Chester.  Spared from a life of solitary confinement and invasive experimentation. rehabilitation_release_sanctuary_biomedical_research_industry_baboon_rescued

The dedicated NSPCA staff and photographer drove through the night to transport the baboons from their solitary confinement in the Free-State facility. Upon arrival to the centre, C.A.R.E. staff and NSPCA staff worked together to off-load the baboons and have them TB tested by NSPCA Veterinarian Dr. Bryce Marok.

ARRIVING TO C.A.R.E.: C.A.R.E.'s Assisting Managing Director Samantha Dewhirst and Phase 1 Rehabilitation Manager off-loading the baboons and carrying them into C.A.R.E.'s Quarantine Clinic.
ALL HANDS ON DECK: Veterinary student Maria, Phase 1 Rehabilitation Manager Joanne Marden and Manager Hannah Shaughnessy preparing food for the baboons.

Our staff worked around the clock caring for the 12 baboons; assessing them, working hard on permit applications to firstly get the baboons from the FreeState to the Centre, contacted reserves and land owners to find a suitable release area, arranged for transport to the release site, organised final veterinary clearance and pushed to successfully attain permits to release.

The 12 distressed baboons were housed in our Quarantine Clinic which was built in 2014 thanks to the International Primate Protection League and Boda Trust. Here they were kept calm with minimal human presence except the same care-givers in order to reduce stress and minimise habituation to human presence.

With a big thanks to Michele Pickover, Director of the EMS Foundation and to the owners and Management of a Private Game Reserve we were given the permission to release the baboons on their property. We quickly set about getting permits arranged and final Veterinary clearance to ensure we could give the wild-caught and terrified baboons back their freedom.

We had our local Veterinarian, Dr. Raas give the baboons their final veterinary clearance and we were then on the road at 4:30am with the baboons transporting them for the last time to their new home. The NSPCA were invited to see the baboons taste freedom again along with SABC special assignment and Ban Animal Trading South Africa.

The animals were originally captured in the Vaalwater by Erich Venter with legal permits, and legally transported to a university in the Freestate all under the direction of a researcher who did not have enough baboons to conduct their study. The researcher has published many papers which have involved subjecting baboons to invasive experimentation. Thankfully, these 12 baboons were spared such a fate as the research wasn't approved on wild-caught baboons by the Universities Ethics Committee and that's when we got the call to step in and help.

Baboons had abrasions on their head from their initial capture and transportation; trying in vein to escape.  This baboon re-opened the abrasions when being transported again; clearly a wild baboon that didn't want to be caged.

Assisting Managing Director Samantha Dewhirst comments, "When we got the call to help these baboons, we had no clue as to how long they would have to be in captivity or how wild they truly were; but we had to get them out of that facility and we could work out the rest later. The whole scenario of capturing of the animals for invasive research was a complete and utter waste of time as there was no ethics approval. We are seeking answers. How is it legal for one person to give a permit for an individual to capture wild baboons and sell them into a life-time of solitary confinement and experimentation? These wild baboons are nobody's property to capture and sell, they were taken from their friends and family all between 3-6 years old (approx.) and were very distressed for absolutely no reason. There is no way these animals could have been labelled as 'Damage Causing' since they are so young and scared of people; it's a tragedy for them.

Many of the baboons had bald patches on their head due to the initial transportation to the research facility; trying in vein to escape their cages. Some arrived with the old scabs on their heads re-opening as they again tried to escape their cages. There is no way that we wanted to keep the baboons in captivity for any longer than necessary as with each day they would become more habituated; these baboons were wild and scared and so we made every effort possible to get them back to where they belonged. We couldn't have hoped for a better result from such tragic circumstances.".

The release area was in the Vaalwater, a Private Game Reserve which provides well over 10,000 hectares of natural, protected habitat, year-round water supplies, sound ethics concerning baboons and 24 hour anti-poaching patrols. The area is indigenous to where the 12 grew up and therefore the 12 are used to the vegetation and climate. We couldn't release the baboons onto the farm where they originated from, as this is Erich Venter's land and he is renowned for capturing baboons; we didn't want to put them at risk of re-capture.

HISTORY IN REPEAT? C.A.R.E. releasing the 'Venter Troop'; a troop of 30 wildcaught baboons in 2000 - according to the artivle were confiscated from Erich Venter

This isn't the first time that C.A.R.E. has taken into our care baboons which originated from Erich Venter's capturing escapades. In early 2000 C.A.R.E. released baboons onto Shambala Nature Reserve and Letaba Ranch which were rescued from the same man and same industry.

Bryce, a young male stolen from his family now needs to join a wild troop to survive; a position he should never have found himself in.

Additionally, it has come to light the the Free-State University, according to OFM have a captive bred colony of baboons to use for invasive research, "According to Loader (University of the Free State spokesperson, Lacea Loader), the baboons were acquired from the Limpopo and Free State provinces with the necessary permits, but without the ethics clearance which had to be granted by the university's Interfaculty Animal Ethics Committee (AEC). "Due to the fact that the UFS only conducts research on the captive bred colony of baboons - in accordance with international guidelines - custodianship of the sourced baboons was handed over to the NSPCA," explains Loader. She adds the necessary corrective actions were put in place in terms of the concerned parties who acted outside the Constitution of the AEC."

Empty transport cages at the C.A.R.E. Veterinary Clinic

For these 12 they have their freedom.

They were released next to a large water dam which has mountains surrounding it; so whichever direction the 12 ran would mean they had a great vantage point to orientate themselves. The 12 were terrified of people and ran together in the same direction heading for the high trees.

The baboons had an area of their body shaved for short-term post-release monitoring; already 5 were spotted with one of the wild troops just two days after release. The reserve management are dedicated to monitoring the 12 which is going to be tricky since they are very scared of humans, but so far so good.

C.A.R.E.'s Managing Director Stephen Munro has 14 years experience of rehabiliation and release of chacma baboons.

Managing Director Stephen Munro who was previously C.A.R.E.'s Release Manager, a position once funded by IFAW has personally released over 7 troops of baboons back into the wild said,

"The baboons are all relatively young and very wild, therefore shouldn't be seen as a threat to the wild troop. It's likely that they will seek out the wild baboons, as they naturally will want to be part of a troop and I imagine they will follow them and integrate into one of the troops with relative ease. They are very scared of people, they know what to eat and know social dynamics so should all do really well; they have the best chance we could give them in a fantastic reserve."

"We are elated that we were able to intervene and give these primates the opportunity to return to the wild. The release process went smoothly and it was truly heart-warming to see them back in familiar territory, taking those initial steps towards their returned freedom,” said Erika Vercuiel, Manager of the NSPCA’s Animal Ethics Unit." Algoa FM.

Anita, one of 4 females with scabs on her head from the initial capture and transport.  Males naturally join other troops, but it could be harder for Anita to be accepted into a larger group.  The release reserve is perfect for her and the other females to take their time to adjust with plenty of water, trees, mulitple baboon troops and natural food which she is used to.

"This isn't the end of the story. The baboons now have to get used to a new troop, establish their rank and orientate themselves in a new habitat. It's devastating for them. I couldn't be more pleased with the reserve choice though, it is as close to perfect as could be and am confident the baboons will do well. We need change in legislation and permit issuance which is clearly archaic and unethical. We're pleased to have made the best of a bad situation, but we need assurances that it won't happen again." Stephen Munro, C.A.R.E.'s Managing Director.

We haven't covered any of the costs of the release and have no sponsors to help cover the costs, so if you can help please make a donation;

185 views0 comments
bottom of page