Monkeys are small and fast – more agile than cats, and prettier to look at than baboons; they make nice shapes in the trees with their rounded bodies and long long tails. In repose they have an air of innocence and vulnerability which makes us forgive them for trashing the house at every opportunity.
Baboons – well firstly I am glad it’s not a whole horde of baboons landing on our roof each morning, I am not sure the tin would take a pounding like that. Baboons make great ‘people watching’ opportunities and we so often relate to their inter troop interactions, dramas and alliances.
Baboons differentiate between male and female humans with ease. They will confront the female of our species in a threatening manner, but not the males – no matter how assertive the body language.
Both have big canines – but baboons inevitably have bigger ones.
Monkeys scamper – baboons run in a rollicking manner like a rocking horse that goes forward.
Monkeys go up trees for safety – baboons go down (how am I doing so far?)
Baboons voices carry further when there is a danger alert being broadcast to the troop. We can use these alarm calls when we are trying to find lions or leopards.
Monkeys have soft grey fur that looks like rabbit fur – baboons have coarse brown fur.
Both are highly opportunistic when it comes to raiding parties at human feeding grounds. We were once on the Chobe River on a boat going past old Serondella camp site. Most of the campers were out on game drives. One highly organised mob had left a cook in camp to prepare lunch. The baboon troop was walking around the periphery picking up seeds and pretending not to care. One however was under the table partially concealed by the table cloth.
Now and then an accomplice would create a diversion by seeming to approach the table. The cook would race forward to chase him away, and the guy under the table would reach a long arm up and pinch a food item from the preparation area. The cook would turnaround having looked away for less than a few seconds, and be totally confused as to where the tomato/bread/ apple or whatever had vanished to.
This went on for a while and I must confess we did nothing to interfere as the whole scene had us crying with laughter from afar. So baboons can be very funny and gain points for this!
Baboons can trash your stuff faster and more effectively when they really get going. And its usually in pursuit of their own form of entertainment ….. or food.
We were besieged by baboons once. In our old camp in Linyanti, we just had a couple of Meru tents - large safari tents with strong frames and rip-stop canvas – hah.
We lived in one with our tin trunks of supplies, the other was for K to paint in. Camp was situated on a bend in the Linyanti/Kwando River and the end of a wide floodplain, and underneath a grove of tall ebony trees. Ebony trees produce a small round fruit that is pure sugar and vitamin C – delicious. The baboons think so too and took to sleeping above our sleeping tent. We fell asleep to their soft grunting noises, and other not so soft noises that indicated monkey business was occurring; and wake in the night if one of them had a bad dream, or got eaten by a leopard.
They woke us at first light as the sound of their morning ablutions rained down on the canvas fly sheet before they decended for a day of foraging in the forest.
As elephant pressure in the area increased, so pressure on the riverine forest intensified. Trees pushed down by hungry elephants, meant less food in the pantry for the baboons. Trees around safari camps were more protected.
Ultimately we found ourselves in one of the last remaining islands of forest that had trees loaded with fruit. Baboons spent more time in camp. During breaks in feeding, they discovered that the tents made great trampolines, especially when dropped on from a tall tree. It DID look like fun and I probably would have done that too if I was them. However the wear and tear on the canvas was accelerated to the point that whenever we left camp for a period of days – sometimes weeks – we returned to find a scene of wreckage. Tent poles bent out of shape or pulled out altogether. Canvas in ribbons etc The first few days were spent in repairs, trying to make the camp habitable again with what was left.
I should mention too that once K has prepared some pristine canvases that needed to dry in a bug and baboon free environment. We laid them out in the sleep tent and closed all the flaps before going for a drive to see what else was out there. Imagine returning to camp to find baboons had ripped open the zip, gone into the tent and found the tin trunk of dry food. Opened the trunk, and the rice and everything else they could - then had a party to celebrate. Canvases were liberally rollicked over, paint footprints were all over everything else – no need for fingerprint forensics here. Obviously this was all very exciting because there was a lot of poo too and all mixed in were the rice and staples.
Baboon poo is very smelly and all too human looking. Its annoying to have to clean up someone else’s.
Monkey poo is smaller and less smelly but still annoying if you step in a fresh one, in bare feet, INSIDE THE HOUSE.
Have I said enough? All things considered I think a monkey siege is easier to manage than a baboon siege. At Linyanti, the baboons finally won and repair time outweighed creative working time. We moved out. But hey, its good to live in a place where we have monkeys and baboons around us, and there are bigger problems in the world...... I think...