Stories and Traveltips

ID #1202

An Encounter with Baboons, Hwange National Park, Matabeleland, Zimbabwe.

While potentially dangerous, baboons are among the most entertaining animals in the bush. To survive in the wild, they are tough and powerful and possess a fearsome set of canines. But more importantly, they are intelligent. An encounter with a troop of baboons in Hwange many years ago illustrates just how intelligent they are.

We were parked in a Landrover on a ledge above a waterhole watching a herd of elephant cows and calves frolic in the muddy water. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a big male baboon on point duty approach the waterhole. He clambered to the top of a termite mound and sat scratching himself for fleas. It seemed he was in for a long wait – the elephants were in no hurry to leave.  

Without warning he suddenly charged straight at the elephants. He ran through the waterhole, between the cow’s legs and amongst the calves. Emerging on the far side, he clambered to the top of another termite mound to survey the scene, leaving pandemonium in his wake. The cows were trumpeting indignantly and fussing with the calves, trying to encourage them to leave their mudbath, which they were reluctant to do. The baboon meanwhile sat unconcernedly atop the termite mound surveying the scene. After a while the chaos subsided and the elephants returned to their bath.

After a few minutes a second baboon emerged from the bush to sit on the termite mound. Shortly thereafter the scene was repeated – he charged straight at the elephant herd, through the waterhole between the cow’s legs and out on the far side where he joined his colleague on the termite mound. While the two sat unconcernedly on the termite mound, the chaos that prevailed in the elephant herd revealed that the matriarch and the other cows had had enough – they pushed and shoved their calves out of the water and slowly departed the scene, leaving the waterhole to the baboons. Minutes later the troop emerged from the bush and ran pell mell into the waterhole – they had deliberately evicted an entire herd of elephant from the waterhole.

This story serves to illustrate that, while they may not be able to talk, baboons have sophisticated problem-solving abilities. So when next you are about to be seduced into believing that humans are the only animals with the ability to think, consider for a moment how you might, naked and helpless, have solved this problem.

Incidentally their intelligence enables them to learn all sorts of things, some of which cause them to become problem animals as far as humans are concerned. When encountering baboons in the wild, do not feed them and make sure that they are unable to gain access to rubbish. Alan McIver NFBaboon

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Last update: 2014-05-14 14:12
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.7

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