Baboon Research Project

By Nick and Amanda Ellwanger

Greetings! We are American Ph.D. students in Ecological Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio. We’ve been in town on a “scouting mission” for two months. Our primary goals were to make contacts in the area, find research sites, and spend a little time getting to know your baboons. We visited many different areas in the Overberg, each with its own unique context and potential to answer different research questions. We considered each site not only in terms of the relevance to our research questions but also for feasibility and logistics (e.g. how easy will it be to access the baboons’ mountain sleeping area, how much driving and research funds will spent on petrol if we select this site, etc.). Although our aim is not to produce management policies, our research will help to provide a scientific basis for others to consider as they produce informed policy that benefits both people and baboons. Here is a little information about our research projects.
Nick’s research focuses on how primates cope with changes in resources between seasons and how their physiology may change between seasons. A primary concern to the study of primate populations is how female reproductive health can be maintained when the environment and resources available to primates change. Nick’s research will focus on patterns of feeding, competition over resources, and potential changes to female reproductive potential. Because much of baboon habitat in the Overstrand has been modified for human use, Nick has chosen to conduct his research on a group of baboons in Salmonsdam Nature Reserve.

Amanda’s research examines ecological, biological, and cultural interconnections between people and primates. Many populations of humans and primates throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia live in close proximity and may compete with each other for resources such as food or space. Some types of primates, like baboons and other cheek-pouch monkeys, are able to thrive in human-modified habitats due to their ability to quickly adapt to novel situations and use a range of strategies, which is known as behavioral flexibility. In addition to the flexibility needed to persist in human-modified habitats like farms, villages, and other urban spaces, the baboons in the Western Cape must cope with a highly seasonal environment (e.g., rainfall, daylight, and temperature) and an incredibly unique habitat completely unknown to primates that live in tropical regions. In particular, Amanda is interested in studying issues of ecological overlap between people and baboons, baboon stress responses in proximity to humans, and people’s cultural perspectives of animals, the environment, baboons, and conservation. Amanda’s dissertation research will examine these questions with a baboon troop in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley that range through a variety of habitats including fynbos, agricultural areas, and alien vegetation.
During our stay in the Overstrand, we
have met with many different people
from the municipality, Cape Nature
, the media, the community, farmers, scientists, and conservationists. We are so thankful for everyone’s support and for the time each person dedicated to speak with us and aid our research. We are especially grateful for the support we’ve received from everyone at Whale Coast Conservation and look forward to fostering a long-term research partnership in the future!