With help and C.A.R.E. baboons give research lab the finger

A voluteer at C.A.R.E with one of the baboons that was rehabilitated. PHOTO: CA.R.E

12 Wild-caught baboons were spared from the biomedical research industry and were entrusted into the care at The Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education  (C.A.R.E.)  outside Phalaborwa to organise their future by the National Council of SPCA’S (NSPCA)

Dedicated NSPCA staff and a photographer drove through the night recently to transport the baboons from their solitary confinement in the Free-State facility.

The heroes and voluteers at CARE. Photo: Supplied

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.

The 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.

TLC and rehabilitation. Photo: C.A.R.E

The 12 distressed baboons were housed in their 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.

Video: Do you give a monkeys? CARE baboon sanctuary, South Africa

With a big thanks to Michele Pickover, Director of the EMS Foundation and to the owners and Management of a Private Game Reserve they were given the permission to release the baboons on their property. They 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,” said Assisting Managing Director Samantha Dewhirst

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 they got the call to step in and help.

“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 approximately  3-6 years old 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,” said Dewhirst.


In safe care at C.A.R.E.

The release area was in the Vaalwater area, in 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,” said Dewhirst

This isn’t the first time that C.A.R.E. has taken into their 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.

For these 12 they have their freedom.

Five of them were named, namely: Anita, Arthur, Erika, Trevor and then of course Enrique.

“He was the most handsome,” Dewhrist told the Herald.

Video: Baboons and volunteering at C.A.R.E.

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.

They are elated that they were able to intervene and give these primates the opportunity to return to the wild.

Photo: C.A.R.E.

“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.

Photo: C.A.R.E.

“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,” daid Stephen Munro, C.A.R.E.’s Managing Director.

C.A.R.E. 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 by visiting: www.primatecare.org/donate


Bertus de Bruyn
Journalist / News Editor

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