Written by Karen Paolillo of the Turgwe Hippo Trust
In Africa, baboons are looked upon as vermin. The attitude is that the only good baboon is a dead one.
During daylight hours, baboons are constantly on the move for food. In lean times with no rains, they exist with empty stomachs for days on end. That changed abruptly for one group of baboons when my husband and I moved into the troop’s territory. We began by camping above the riverbank, and eventually building a home of brick and thatch. During a time of absolutely no rain at all, we became saviors to all the animals around us.
We initially concentrated on two families of hippos living in the Turgwe River, but the food we laid out every evening was feeding over 60 other wild animals as well as the entire family of baboons and a troop of vervet monkeys. The baboons found the Soya bean hay left for the hippos more suitable to other herbivores but they loved the horse cubes tucked up in that huge mass of hay.
Foxy was one of these baboons and she learned that at least two humans were not as dangerous as so many others. She moved among us for many years and later gave birth to a baby named Vixen and would approach us relatively closely without fear. When Foxy was eventually killed by a predator, Vixen was still just a juvenille. She suddenly had no Mum to cuddle up to at night where they once stayed high on a tree limb, safe from nocturnal predators, like leopards. But Vixen was of high intelligence and she seemed to gravitate towards me.
I Was So Moved the First Time She Touched Me, Tears Rolled Down My Face
The very first time that Vixen approached me closely was one of those surreal moments in life when you know something very special is about to occur. I leant towards her and gently scratched her head and then even more slowly I stroked the hair upon her back. Now baboons don’t normally get that kind of loving, as they will be cuddled by each other and groomed, but stroking is more a human to dog, cat or pony kind of thing. It obviously was just the ticket for little Vixen as she allowed me to continue, then she blew me away.
Leaning towards me she reached up to my own long hair and began sifting through in search of who knows what. This is a typical grooming behavior for baboons to do to each other, but this little girl baboon was doing it to a mere human.
She very carefully sorted through my hair looking for creepy crawlies or goodness knows what. I couldn’t help it, tears rolled down my face, tears of incredulity that this little wild creature would honor me in such a way. I spoke to her telling her that she had touched me like no other animal, both physically and mentally with her trust, not realizing that this little girl actually understood every word I said. With time, I have learned that baboons do understand human words and it is us humans that are the stupid ones, since we cannot speak baboon!
Since that day, it is a regular treat for me for Vixen to groom me. She has given birth to two babies of her own, Terry, a male, and just recently Zorette, a little girl. She will sit next to me and groom me with baby Zorette suckling at her breast and most amazingly she will allow me to stroke her newborn. Of all of the baboons under our care, it took one little orphaned juvenile to show me that never a day can pass without us learning something new from the animals. More photos of Karen’s wildlife protection work here