Virtual fence to keep baboons at bay
A “LANDSCAPE of fear” – one that exists purely in the mind of target animals.
That’s how Phil Richardson describes the virtual fences his wildlife management company has developed to chase away unwanted animals, in this case, a troop of baboons in Gordon’s Bay.
“I like to think of a virtual fence as if it were a territorial boundary. It is a well-known boundary that exists purely in the mind of the target animal. He respects it out of fear that if he is caught trespassing, he will face serious retribution, like being beaten up and possibly killed.
“It is this fear of retribution that makes the animal respect the boundary and stay on his side,” Richardson said in his presentation at the seventh Oppenheimer De Beers Group research conference in Joburg this week.
The main aim of a virtual fence was to create areas perceived to be scarier than others.
“The fence produces a variety of stimuli such as alarm calls, predator calls, sounds of dying animals, predators squabbling and pyrotechnics, which create stimulus unpredictability, thus minimising the chances of habituation.”
Other scary sounds and loud bangs could be added “to enhance the fear”, he said.
“The sound and hormones produced by agitated swarming bees can also be added to the mix.”
Until now, virtual fencing had had very limited application to wildlife, “but the potential is certainly huge”, he said.
At the beginning of the year Richardson’s firm created a virtual fence to deter a troop of baboons increasingly sleeping on the cliffs above Gordon’s Bay, then raiding the town every morning and evening for breakfast and an early supper.
The virtual fence contained several “action stations” placed in a line between the Steenbras Dam and the False Bay coastline.
“These are waterproof boxes that contain a double barrelled bearbanger and two high-amp speakers. The stations are radio controlled from a hand- held remote with a range of 700m.”
The alpha male baboons were collared with GPS, recording their position at regular intervals.
“When the baboons approach, the operator is sent an SMS indicating the baboons’ position. The operator then drives to the site and sets out seven action stations about 50m apart, and hidden in a line ahead of the baboons.
“The operator, also hidden on a nearby hillside, starts playing calls like an alarm call, then lions roaring, then a buffalo being killed. The baboons become very agitated and the alpha male often approaches to see where the danger is coming from.”
The bearbangers are then activated.
“The baboons immediately run off.
“Baboon problems are now being experienced in the Karoo, with some farmers losing up to 50 percent of their annual lamb yield. Putting collars on adult male baboons and on their sheep will alert the farmers when the baboons come on to their farms.
“The same principal could be applied to collaring leopards and lions and vulnerable stock like cattle or high-value game.”