Wildlife Guardian Accepted by Baboons: Tender Video Footage


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

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Cheryl B.
Cheryl B5 years ago

thanks for a great story

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

great story

Mark Jones
Mark Jones5 years ago

Hi Karen, thanks for the comments back. Most writers of stories on this website don't bother and sometimes it is very necessary and alleviates unnecessary bickering. Thanks for the info. I can't go on global numbers as it doesn't really work for 'localised problems'. For example, until a few years ago, elephants were endangered, but in certain parts of Africa they were overpopulated, just as they were extinct in others. It does, however, look like a pretty good project. Forgive me for my cynicism, I like to see places before really being for them, if you know what I mean.

Karen Paolillo
Karen Paolillo5 years ago

Hi Mark just seen your comment. I live in Southern Africa ie Zimbabwe and here and down south they are considered as vermin I do not know about the rest of Africa. I agree you do not feed wild animals. I fed the hippos twice in 20 years. In 1991/92 when a severe drought wiped out all hippos in the river systems that were not fed. I live in a designated wildlife area which is now invaded by illegal settlers in areas but in general is looked upon as only for wildlife. The drought killed thousands of animals. The hippos pools in the river had already been damaged by man more than 70 yrs previously as they built a dam upstream about 50 miles away. This changed the rivers course. In the drought if I had not fed the hippos not one would have survived, since then that nucleous of wild hippos which were 13 that I saved have had 47 calves. I give the baboons titbits only as they live with us and when people come here to meet the hippos on safari or as volunteers it is nice for them to meet a troop of baboons that are totally and absolutely at home here and consider this as part of their territory. Which is was before we moved in, this is wild bush nothing artificial just straight bush. For your interst Hippos are now on appendix 2 of Cites and they are endangered in many of their home ranges, there are actually less hippos on our earth than elephants and elephants are definately being hammered by man. All of our big animals will be gone within the next 50 years if the growi

Mark Jones
Mark Jones5 years ago

Okay, first off, they are not considered vermin all over Africa, you make it sound like they are virtually outlawed. Second, there are extremely few reasons why wild animals should be fed by humans, drought is generally not one of them as it is a rather natural occurrence. Thirdly, no, baboons cannot actually understand our language, but they do pick up our body language, any animal can including birds and some reptiles. Hell, some plants can recognise us when we walk into a room. Its only us humans that rely on speech so much and then read into things too much and think animals understand us.
I also don't understand this sanctuary? Hippos are common throughout Africa and drought commonly helps to naturally control their populations. Why are we moving in, saving them, and feeding them?

Carrie Anne Brown

great article, thanks for sharing :)

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright5 years ago

Obviously baboons are better judges of character than the Africans are of knowing and appreciating the importance of these baboons.

I consider humans to be the vermin of the world.......................

Kathleen G.
Kathleen G5 years ago

Karen,you are a wonderful person whose love of wild animals shines through you.The video of you and Vixen shows how these animals have trust in you.To gain a wild animals' trust you must have that special bond with them that only a person with their well being put first and foremost can have.I am truely honored to be a Care2 friend of Karen,and I hope her work of saving these precious creatures can continue,for she is an angel of the wild ones.

Robert Tedders
Robert T5 years ago

Male baboons can be vicious brutes though, so don't take no bullshit!! First sign of excess or unwarranted aggression - i.e. you're sitting there minding your own business - reach for the tranq. gun!!

Robert Newsom
Robert Newsom5 years ago

You are one brave lady.