Forestry in South Africa
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February : Impact of baboons in timber plantations

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22 February, 2017

Impact of baboons in timber plantations

Impact baboons


Baboons cause substantial losses for citrus, banana, maize, vegetable, macadamia, avocado, grape and timber farmers.

  • The forestry industry works with other farming groups, nature conservation agencies, environmental bodies and the scientific community, to ensure that control measures for reducing crop losses from baboons, are scientifically and ethically sound.


Over recent years, the South African forestry industry, particularly in Mpumalanga and the southern Cape, has encountered an alarming increase in damage to commercial timber plantations by baboons.  This damage occurs when baboons strip bark off the trees, causing major deterioration in wood quality and the eventual death of the tree.

A Baboon Damage Interest Group (BDIG) operates in Mpumalanga and comprises affected timber growers, provincial nature conservation, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. It is currently extending its membership to other affected stakeholders, like the South African Sub-tropical Growers Association and the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries.

This forum convenes regularly to find suitable management options and has developed a baboon damage protocol that enables affected timber growers, to use appropriate control measures.

Economic losses for industry

While timber plantations have recorded significant financial losses, other agricultural crops (citrus, banana, maize, vegetable, avocado, macadamia and grapes) have also been affected.

Baboons lead to significant losses for the timber industry owing to:

  • The high reject rate of harvested timber by sawmills as a result of damage
  • Escalating fuel, harvesting and replanting costs, due to volumes of damaged or dead trees left infield

Baboon control based on sound science

FSA and our members are committed to ensuring that control measures are based on sound scientific research, part of which is being undertaken by the Baboon Research Unit at the University of Cape Town.

Baboon density in a Mpumalanga study plantation, was found to be more than three times higher than the neighbouring natural area. Baboon damage seems to occur more frequently on high productivity sites, where resources are more readily available and so less time is needed by baboons for foraging.

Preliminary research shows that where more adult males reside in plantations than in neighbouring natural habitats, this causes a disruption in social relationships. Stripping bark seems to centre on the behaviour of stressed baboons due to these unnatural population ratios.

Some plantations have sustained greater losses from baboons than from the current drought.

Media activity

Forestry South Africa has engaged the media in an open and transparent manner on the issue of damage causing animals in forestry. A media statement was issued and interviews have been given to mainstream media. An interview was also scheduled with a media entity for Friday 24 February 2017.

Prior to this interview taking place, the media entity with whom FSA had an interview scheduled and an NGO, who declined ongoing participation in the Baboon Damage Interest Group, illegally entered the property of one of FSA's members on 20 February 2017.

FSA is disappointed to note this development, especially since FSA and our members participated openly in coverage of the issue in 2006.

We regret further that an interview with the Baboon Damage Interest Group, on which respected wildlife NGOs are represented, has not yet taken place. This would have been the logical starting point for anyone seeking an objective understanding of the issue.

Source: Forestry South Africa