Baboons seeking snacks are breaking into tourists' cars in South Africa, and authorities have threatened to fine visitors who give them food and encourage their aggressive pursuit of bananas and sandwiches.
There has been a spate of cases where baboons stole picnics and snatched bags from people in popular tourist spots around Cape Town. In one recent reported incident, baboons jumped into the car of American visitors who were taking pictures on the side of the road.
In a statement earlier this month, the city of Cape Town and conservationists voiced alarm that some tour operators were apparently deliberately baiting the baboons, despite numerous signs warning against feeding the animals.
"Any tour operator caught doing so can be charged under national conservation legislation," city official Piet van Zyl said.
"We appeal to the public to exercise extreme caution in interacting with baboons. Under no circumstances should they ever feed the animals, and should they do so they can be similarly charged," he said.
Fanie Bekker, executive director of Cape Nature, said people faced a maximum fine of 1,500 rands ($150) or six months in prison, or both — depending on the severity of the offense. He said authorities would actively seek to penalize those who broke the law.
There are around 340 baboons in 20 to 30 troupes around Cape Town. They are a protected species under South African legislation, but their persistent pursuit of food often leads to conflicts with local residents.
National park rangers have had to kill problem baboons that have become too aggressive, but there have been no recent cases of a baboon attacking a person.
Primatologists say baboons get as much nutrition from a half loaf of discarded bread as from what they forage in four hours in the undergrowth, and that they easily get used to eating human food.
At Cape Point there are baboon monitors who crack whips to scare baboons away from the restaurant area. But the surrounding roads are harder to police.
In some Cape Town suburbs, trained monitors try to prevent the primates from breaking into homes, where they have been known to rip off drainpipes and ransack the kitchen.
'Baboon summit' planned
But not all residential areas can be protected, and there are constant attacks by frustrated locals against the hairy intruders, according to Brett Myrdal, manager of Table Mountain National Park.
City and parks authorities said they would hold a "baboon summit" in the coming weeks to try to come up with solutions.
Myrdal said the emphasis would be on trying to educate people to behave more responsibly rather than to control the baboons.
"It's not the baboons who are the problem," he said.