AS I TAKE MY LAST BREATH IN THE TIMBER PLANTATIONS OF SABIE
One day a strange new shiny metal climbing structure appeared on the edge of the fresh smelling pine forest we love to visit, once the sun has come up and the air starts to feel the warmth run through it. The feast that the cool forest provides keeps us busy, some of us have learned the art of tirelessly cracking the pine nuts against hard stone surfaces for hours - it may take time, but the rewards are worth it!
The new shiny structure looks alien and out of place in the forest, but I want to see what it is, I think we are all thinking the same thing, but some of us are more nervous and cynical than others and decide to hold back. I can smell the sweet aromas of succulent fruits and can just see glimpses of bright yellow mealies – wow, what a treat! Just a few of us dare to enter the structure which leaves more for me.
Each day I can’t wait to get to the forest to see what new delights have been left for us, I just hope no one else wants to come in and realizes what an incredible find this is, that would mean less for me! I’m not sharing so I’ll get there first, it looks like everyone’s decided they want to join in on my secret place, even the little ones, but then I guess there is enough for all of us, I can’t fit another orange or pepper into my cheek pouch, let alone my stomach.
What’s that noise? There’s humans, what are they doing? There’s screams from the others, but I can’t see what’s going on, everyone’s starting to panic, climbing over each other, why can’t I get out, let’s just run, just move, let me get out, just RUN …. RUN ….. QUICK ….. WHAT’S HAPPENING ?
The screams get louder, the sun is burning through the sizzling hot metal, I need to drink but there’s no water and then I see a tiny baby crushed and trampled, blood seeping from her nostrils, her body limp, her mother trying desperately to keep hold of her but she’s not moving, and then another and another. It’s frantic, you can smell the fear, everyone turning on each other to try to get out, scratching and grasping at anything, but there’s no way out. It feels like hours in the baking sun, I feel weak from the frenzy, but there’s a strange kind of hush resonating through this structure as the sun falls beneath the horizon and darkness is upon us. The shuddering cold sets in and I can feel my limbs shivering and cramping, everyone is quieter now, but it feels like there’s less of us.
We’ll get out today! I know we will, we have to find a way. I find every ounce of energy I can and we all scramble to the top of the structure climbing over each other, some falling like rocks, others biting and screaming their way to the top. I can just see humans approaching through the cris-crossing of the metal. This doesn’t feel good, but maybe they will let us out! They have guns …. I’ve seen them before when we’ve been chased and I know what that means ……………… I’m not getting out of here, am I?
BAIT ….. CAPTURE ………CULL
For more than a decade, Forestry South Africa, the industry association to which more than 90% of forestry companies in South Africa belong, have been legally baiting, capturing and culling in the most torturous and inhumane ways, thousands of innocent, wild and free chacma baboons in the Pine Timber Plantations of Sabie, Mpumulanga. It is alleged that baboons, whilst apparently not living or sleeping in the Timber Plantations, visit the forests and cause great destruction by stripping the bark from the pine trees, resulting in the trees being unusable for quality timber products.
In 2012, The Institute for Commercial Forestry Research hosted a Research Symposium entitled Causes, consequences and solutions to baboon induced damage within commercial plantations in southern Africa. The Symposium had a research-based function, where researchers and plantation managers were able to share both their research findings and practical experience around the control of baboons in commercial plantations.
Protocols have been in place for the past 10 years to reduce the damage caused to the pine trees, and whilst at least a dozen alternative solutions have been put forward by Wildlife Activist Organizations, none of these solutions have been deemed possible, either for financial, practical or logistical reasons. A research project conducted by international primatologists found that culling baboons did not result in the decreased damage to pine trees.
Since 2018 it is reported that over 4,000 chacma baboons have been killed in the Sabie Timber Plantations.
In February 2017, Carte Blanche, South Africa’s Investigative Media Documentary was aired and reported on the situation relating to the culling of baboons, unveiling evidence of mass graves of baboons, babies, juveniles and adults shot, although due to the nature of baiting, capturing and culling, it is believed that the stress and anxiety of confinement within the temporary cages installed, causes many of the baboons to simply die through injuries to themselves and each other in an attempt to get out. The documentary raised an international outcry and drew negative publicity to the Plantations.
NGO, Baboon Matters called for an immediate moratorium on the killing of the baboons in Sabie until such research could be carried out to understand the reasons why the primates are allegedly stripping the bark from the trees. To this day it is still not understood if the bark itself holds any benefit or nutritional value to the baboons.
Following the exposure by Carte Blanche, the FSA (Forestry South Africa) invited NGO’s, Wildlife Activists and Plantation owners to a meeting to express their concerns and discuss possible alternative solutions based upon the research that had been ongoing to understand the reasons for the alleged bark stripping by the baboons. The Meeting was entitled “The Baboon Damage Meeting” which was later renamed “The Baboon Damage Interest Group”. Attempts to schedule the meeting in 2017 were unsuccessful so a Workshop for NGO’s was proposed in November 2017 which was attended by the C.A.R.E. Team together with Prime Crew, Baboon Matters and D.I.Y. Wild whereby alternative solutions were discussed. The meeting posed many issues, most importantly that was no research or data that could be shared in order to consider factual based solutions. A moratorium on the killing of more baboons was declined by the FSA.
A follow-up meeting was recently held at the FSA offices in Johannesburg, which was attended by a good representation of NGO’s continuing to be the voice of the thousands of baboons who have experienced horrific and inhumane deaths at the hands of humans.
The results of the meeting are yet to be revealed, however, with a restructuring of responsibilities and direct and empathetic reassurances that the research will shortly be available within the next two months, and our alternative solutions will be trialled, for the first time, there is HOPE that baboons may be saved from this treatment.
BUT for now, hundreds of baboons are still experiencing the horror of BAIT …… CAPTURE ……..CULL and we must keep fighting for every single individual that deserves to live without this threat, after-all, weren’t they there first !
WRITTEN BY SAM KEEGAN, MAY 2018 (ATTENDED BOTH 2017 and 2018 Baboon Damage Working Group Meetings)