Baboons and Sheep

The sheep clumped together, surrounded by baboons and fences.

Words by Julienne du Toit

Photographs by Chris Marais

Yesterday we crossed the Karoo on one of our favourite roads: Graaff-Reinet to Murraysburg to Victoria West, Loxton, Carnarvon and Williston. Spirit of the Karoo Route, we call it. You’ll meet no more than 10 vehicles in total on the roads between towns.

Between Graaff-Reinet and Murraysburg, we came upon an odd sight. A small flock of sheep, about twenty or so, were clumped together and looking uneasy. Around them were baboons, doing their best to look nonchalant. I almost expected one of them to be whistling tunelessly.

Every now and then a baboon would hop on the nearby fence.

The young baboons were gambolling nearby, picking up invisible objects from the earth and popping them into their mouths. The older adults would walk by the sheep, within a few metres, then hop on the fence.

The enormous and very hairy troop boss sat on a small grassy knoll nearby, managing to look shifty and innocent at the same time.

Clearly something was up. There was an air of expectation, and the sheep sensed it. If they grazed at all, it was only a few bites and then their heads would be up. They hardly moved, boxed in as they were close to the corner of a fence.

Now, there are accounts of baboons being trained to act as shepherds. In fact, there was one in Eastern Cape’s Cathcart district over a hundred years ago, that was recorded as being quite devoted to the herd of goats he’d been trained to guard.

An unlikely pairing: sheep and baboons. Or are they auditioning to be shepherds?

He’d drink milk from one of them and bring them back to the kraal every night, riding on the back of the last goat. Another was recorded as picking off ticks from his charges.

But what was going on here was not nearly so benign, in spite of the baboons’ casual air.

It was equally clear that nothing was going to happen while we were watching. The baboons kept glancing at us, as if wishing we’d leave so they could carry on their business. The sheep looked very much as if they wanted us to stay.

We eventually drove off reluctantly.

Is there any Karoo sheep farmer who could shed some light on what interactions happen between sheep and baboons?


6 thoughts on “Baboons and Sheep

  1. Julian says:

    Generally, baboons and sheep live side-by-side with indifference to each other. However once a baboon troop learns to kill and eat sheep, as has happened in the Lower Sneeuberg recently, they can be extremely destructive. Same goes for goats and in particular goat kids.

  2. Peet du Plooy says:

    In die Karasberge in Nam word bobbejane ‘n erge plaag onder skape en bokke. Tot 30 uit 100 lammers wat gebore word, kan deur bobbejane “ge-oes” word. Dan vat jakkalse en rooikatte ‘n verdere 20 tot 30 lammers.

  3. Jack Visser says:

    Baboons are particularly destructive when a drought is prevalent, they wreak havoc among sheep, goats, springbuck etc. and are regarded as vermin in many areas, as are jackal & lynx, all of which will be shot on sight if found in certain areas of the Karoo
    The cost to farmers runs into many thousands of Rand, amounts which cannot be recouped

  4. imfene says:

    Having heard a number of stories about baboons atacking “livestock”, and still not being able to find any evidence of this, I’d like those who accuse baboons of this to post some proof. A google search for images did not provide any evidence. Given that baboons are not predators, yet in certain environments where they have little choice, may resort to killing small mammals, the idea that baboons kill livestock needs verification in order to conclude that this is not yet another myth designed to justify the persecution of this species.

    • David Okul says:

      Baboon killing livestock is not a myth. They particularly like to kill smaller livestock such as the young ones of sheep and goats. The attacks are more rampant during the dry season when there is low supply of fruits and other vegetables that they usually feed on. And baboons may not even fear the herder, especially if they are women or children

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