Not just a nuisance: why you need to care about traumatised baboons


Jenni Trethowan took up the fight for baboons more than 25 years ago, championing tolerance rather than spreading fear of the misunderstood creatures. But in 2006, she almost lost her life for the animals she loves. Trethowan came into contact with a baboon who had been poisoned with a banned toxic substance. The animal died from internal haemorrhaging, and Trethowan ended up in the intensive care unit. Her experience shed light on the daily suffering of baboon troops at the hands of humans. In the battle for food and territory, they are seen as a nuisance that must be eliminated.

Trethowan co-founded the Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group in 1990 to protect baboons on the Cape Peninsula. In 2001, she turned her attention to the troops on the periphery of urban areas when she founded the Baboon Matters Trust. The organisation is a voice for animals who cannot articulate their distress. From being forced out of their indigenous spaces by rapid urbanisation to having to return closer to residential areas when the trees they rely on for food and shelter are felled, baboons have to do everything they can to survive. Accused of raiding and aggressive behaviour, male troop leaders in particular are attacked with paintballs, shot at and culled. The loss leaves other baboons vulnerable and in mourning, and affects their social structures and population.

In addition to assisting injured baboons, Trethowan wants to ensure that they never get hurt to begin with. But it’s a slow process. The media has contributed to the idea of baboons as unruly and dangerous, which encourages people to respond to them with fear and aggression. Trethowan is working to prove that it is possible for the human-baboon conflict to be managed in a way that benefits us both. This is more than just an environmental consideration, it’s an ethical one. Baboons are exceptional creatures – and not all that different to us. We owe it to the next generation to not allow our misconceptions and fear to prevent them from knowing these animals.