By Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu
The sound of banging on rooftops at dawn coupled with barking, roaring, screaming and grunting signify the arrival of baboons.
Residents are jarred out of their dreams in a scenario that has become ‘‘normal” in some parts of Gwanda Town.
The baboon terror started around 2007 and has increased over the years as the animals multiply.
People in the town’s central business district and surrounding suburbs report that the baboons are becoming more daring with each passing day.
Cleaning a pantry of food, raiding a house for valuables or opening water taps and leaving them running are among the annoying antics residents are forced to put up with.
Projects like vegetable gardens or chicken rearing are impossible to undertake as the rampaging baboons devour the chickens and feast on the vegetables.
Besides the noise that makes it impossible for one to have a good night’s sleep, the animals have caused severe damage to property and infrastructure at residential properties and institutions.
Residents need to always be a step ahead of the baboons which are very calculative and possess uncanny cunning, with great speed and agility to escape physical attacks.
Mrs Bernardette Maphala who stays in the city centre said the baboons destroyed infrastructure at her home. She said they had also stolen food from her house on several occasions.
“These baboons are a real menace. They have destroyed infrastructure such as gutters as they have a habit of playing on rooftops. At one point they vandalised my geyser on the roof and I had to install a razor wire around it so that they can’t access it. Some of my neighbours have complained that the baboons have damaged their asbestos while playing on the roofs.
“They also open taps and leave water running. At one point the baboons opened my tap outside and when I came home from work, I had run out of water as we have pre-paid metres. I now make it a point to put caps on my taps so that they can’t open.
“During the day when we are in the house, we have to make sure that we lock our doors from inside because the baboons can open and gain entry. They have stolen food from my pantry on several occasions after I had left the door closed but unlocked. Once they get in the house it’s difficult to stop the baboons as they quickly snatch the food and dash out,” she said.
Mrs Maphala said the baboons also vandalised vehicles as they destroyed wipers, mirrors and lights. She wanted to build a fowl run, start an orchard and a garden but could not because she fears the baboons could destroy them.
Mrs Maphala said she started living in Gwanda in 2004 but at the time the baboons were not there. She said they started appearing in 2007 but at the time they were few. Now, she said, the baboons had virtually turned the city centre into a game park. She said she believed the problem should have been contained the moment it started before it got out of hand.
Mrs Maphala called on the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to come up with effective measures to deal with the problem.
“When I started living in Gwanda these baboons were not there. When they started being a menace they should have been driven away. Now these baboons have become accustomed to being around residential areas and not the jungle as they are supposed to. Their feeding area has become people’s homes.
“We are not saying that officials from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority should kill these baboons but there is need for them to come up with an effective strategy to drive the baboons away. At the moment they just come for a few days to frighten the baboons and then they leave. After some time the baboons come back again. They should dedicate more time towards chasing the baboons away and they must do it frequently so that this strategy can be effective,” she said.
Mr Christopher Ngwenya who also stays in the city centre said he once tried to rear chickens at his home but the baboons devoured his chicks bringing his project to an end.
Another affected resident Mr Molvin Dube who is also a Gwanda Residents Association information and publicity officer said the baboons were a threat to residents in Wards One and Two and at the Gwanda Provincial Hospital, St Christopher’s Primary School, Mount Cazalet Primary School and Joshua Mqabuko Polytechnic College. He said the baboons had damaged roofs at some of the institutions.
Mr Dube said there were about three troops which were moving around terrorising residents. He said the baboons had started invading some areas in the high-density suburbs which were close to the old dump site. Mr Dube said the population of the baboons was now too high and if not contained they could start attacking people.
“The schools have become a playing area for the baboons since schools have remained closed. All the gutters have been destroyed. When schools are open they sometimes steal food from pupils during break time if they are far from their teachers.
“These baboons are also a health threat given the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. They move from DDF training centre quarantine facility to residential areas with all sorts of garbage. The baboons usually pass by at dawn, 10AM, and 1PM in different groups and at 4PM they go back to their resting place.
“For the past week their troops have been dispersed and they have been moving around in smaller groups because officers from National Parks scared them. However, in a few weeks they would have regrouped and start moving around in large groups,” he said.
Mr Dube said residents were supposed to take extra care of their children as they could be snatched away or attacked by the baboons. The Chronicle