Stories and Traveltips

ID #5165

Kees the Rejected Baboon, Lower Sabie, Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Most action in Big 5 game reserves takes place in the early morning. So many visitors get up before dawn, have a quick cup of coffee and some rusks and pass through the entrance gates into the park as soon as they open, which is usually around 06h00. They then drive around for a few hours but by about 09h00 they are ready to stop, stretch their legs and have a bite to eat. So, having prepared some food (padkos) the night before, they search for a convenient place to stop.

For reasons of safety, one is not allowed to leave one's vehicle in the Kruger National Park. However, there are many lookout and viewing spots between camps where rudimentary picnic facilities are provided. On one occasion we stopped at a lookout spot a few km north of Lower Sabie Camp. It is on the top of a koppie (hill) with a superb view overlooking a small river down into Mozambique.

When I climbed out of the vehicle I saw several game rangers, all of whom were dressed to look like women. They were wearing what looked like turn-of-the-century “Voortrekker” dresses and kappies (hats) and were carrying rifles covered with frilly material to make them look like parasols. Surprised, I asked one of the rangers for an explanation, which is when the following story emerged. 

There was an alpha-male baboon in the area called Kees.  Apparently he had been rejected from his troop by a rival male and was now forced to survive on his own. He noticed all of the people who stopped at the lookout spot. Ever resourceful, he decided that, instead of searching for food in the normal manner, he would raid the visitors instead. His technique was simple but effective – he waited until a bus arrived. When the passengers alighted from the bus, he gave a loud “bogom” and rushed at the visitors with fangs bared. His speciality was women – they were the easiest to scare. They immediately dropped whatever it was they were carrying and scampered back to the safety of the bus. In full view of the onlookers in the bus, he proceeded to rummage through their belongings, eating whatever he found and trashing the rest. After he had had his fill he nonchalantly walked off.

As one might expect, parks personnel took a dim view of his antics. After several unsuccessful attempts at capturing the animal, they decided that only viable alternative was to shoot it. But this proved to be easier said than done because Kees had the most incredible eyesight – he was able to see them clearly at much greater distances than they were able to see him. So whenever he saw rangers with guns in the vicinity, he kept his distance, which was about 600-m. Hence the outfits. One of the “ladies” took me up to the viewing spot and, sure enough, there was Kees clambering up and down a dead tree to check on them. I watched him carefully through a pair of binoculars and there is no doubt that he was able to see us clearly from such a distance.

Which brings me to Eugene Marais, the father of South African ecology. He conducted several experiments with human beings, both conscious as well as under hypnosis. For example, he tested their sense of direction, sense of smell and eyesight, as well as their ability to detect the polarity of a magnet inside a hessian bag. He noticed that, under hypnosis, our senses are far more acute than when conscious. Perhaps more importantly, other animals do not suffer from this disadvantage. He explained that humans possess two types of brain – an instinctive or reptilian brain and the more advanced or conscious brain. Apparently, when conscious, the more advanced part of our brain overwhelms our primitive brain, shutting down its capabilities. However, under hypnosis, the primitive brain is able to function without hindrance and our remarkable eyesight, sense of smell, direction etc are restored. Which is why Kees was able to see us when we were hardly able to see him.

Eugene Marais’ observations have undoubtedly been superceded by more recent work on the subject. But much of his work remains interesting, if only because it was so original. In particular, it explains why animals – particularly prey animals -- in game reserves seem so “alive” and conscious of the slightest noise, smell, etc. Their senses are acute while ours are, by comparison, dull. But there is more to it. Edward de Bono, famous for his many books on creativity, once said: "80% of errors of judgement are the result of errors of perception". In other words, the dullness of our senses is the primary reason for our lack of creativity, innovation and poor judgement. Perhaps I will pay more attention when next I visit the Park.

Alan McIver

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Last update: 2014-03-17 02:24
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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