I’ve been there, sworn at them profusely while I sweated over rebuilding our trashed camp, cleaning up the remains of our last fresh provisions. But I’ve been converted. Now, I dig baboons.
You see, over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to spend 7 months in the company of a baboon troop from heaven. Why were these baboons so angelic? Because before interacting with this troop, the people involved took some time to think things through.
The troop lives in the middle of the Okavango Delta and I was there to film them for the National Geographic documentary, Swamp Troop. Before I arrived, scientists had been studying this troop for 25 years. And they realized early on, that if they wanted to get any meaningful data from these baboons, there could be no cause for conflict between them. So they disposed of organic waste in deep latrines, supervised the burning of any other waste that the baboons could get hold of, and most importantly, they never, ever ate in front of the animals or let them make any association between humans and food. So remarkably, in seven months of living with and filming the troop, we didn’t have a single conflict. Even though we camped and stored our food in exactly the same way that would result in absolute chaos in most wilderness campsites where you find baboons. They still jumped on our tents when they came into camp, but remarkably they never tried to steal anything from us, or our kitchen.
So, maybe it’s not baboons. Maybe it’s us that are the idiots. I’ve learnt a few things about how they forage that may help you if you’re planning to travel anywhere that has less angelic baboons. Like all primates, baboons will never forget a food source. This is the key to their survival and is passed from generation to generation. And you can be sure that at some stage, someone has slipped a piece of banana to a baboon, then someone else threw away the left-overs of a fruit salad in an open dustbin, and then another carelessly left a juicy ripe pawpaw on the table while they went to the ablutions. A habit was born and as a result, your lovely camp today, with all its holiday goodies, is a massive pantry in the middle of the local baboon troop’s territory – like a tree laden with ripe figs.
But all is not lost. While you’re in camp, don’t eat if there are baboons about. Don’t leave any food, or anything that looks like food in view, even for a minute. Don’t let little Amy go wandering down to look at the nice baboons with a juicy ice-cream. And, duh, don’t feed baboons or any other animal. Not even if you think they look hungry. When you leave your camp, take all food (every last little piece), and anything that looks like food, and anything that has touched anything that looks like food, with you. Collapse your tent, chairs and tables – anything that makes a noise, swings, trampolines, falls over or collapses is great for playing on. All this will theoretically make your camp a lot less attractive than the one next door. And when there’s no next door campsite to raid easily, the baboons will soon get bored and go and eat the marulas down near the river. Like their fellow baboons that don’t live next to campsites.
And to help preserve your sense of humour if they do get past your defenses, remember they’re not picking on you. They’re just foraging.
And since our waterhole was the Okavango Delta, unfortunately I don’t have any specific tips for Greg.
Look out for the RoadMedia Documentary “Swamp Troop” shot by Adrian Bailey for National Geographic. A little spoiler “…Swamp Troop takes us into the heart of baboon society. We meet Boro, the troop’s alpha male, who brutally dispatches rivals, and jealously guards mating rights with fertile females. In a land where baboons must swim to survive, winter floods bring peril. They also bring a dangerous stranger that threatens…” (see a short clip)
By Adrian Bailey
All images copyright Adrian Bailey