I’ve come to the conclusion that baboons are prototype humans.
Driving the banks of the Sand River, temporarily sluggish in the January heat, we chanced across a troop of baboons that were emerging from the rocks and reeds of the middle island. They all waited patiently at a small pool that had a hint of crocodile in its murky depths and then in file made the small leap to safety and scrambled up the bank in front of the car. They reminded me of lunch break at school nearly twenty years ago… and I was momentarily disappointed not to see any familiar faces.
Towards the back of the primate entourage was a mother with a precocious youngster riding on her back; a flashback to my two year old daughter riding a pony 6 months ago with that casual indifference to the beast of burden underneath.
They moved from the bank into the long grass of a Jackalberry tree and rooted around for a few minutes. Three days ago, on the way home to Londolozi, we passed a similar scene: a muddy field full of workers hunched over what looked like potato plants.
I see baboons everywhere mirrored in our human existence – and to complete the image: this morning they raided Granite Camp, like a war party of Apache – whooping and yelling with their prize silver sugar bowl as they disappeared beyond the boulders in front of camp and out of view. Jacqui (camp manager) is now strutting like Colonel Custer, catapult in hand and Cry (butler) has a jingling pocketful of pebbles; but truthfully they both wear expressions that admit they’ve been scalped again.
Watching baboons going about their daily activity is enormous fun and tremendously unsettling. They are very human and deep down inside I get the sense that there is a subtle difference between the wild other animals of Londolozi and these primates. After all we don’t have to trace our genes too far back to find a common ancestor with the Chacma.
And then the question about soul… Religious authorities, I believe, are now debating (within the acceptance of evolution as fact) as to the exact point when a soul was injected into man. Sharing this space at Londolozi with baboons makes me wonder if in fact that soul injection point isn’t a long way back up the evolutionary path and that the feeling of commonality I have with them actually has some basis.
I’m now learning to live with the baboons in and around our little home.
I applaud the group in Cape Town whose initiative towards a peaceful existence with the troops has led to the inception of baboon walks in which you can mingle amongst them.
A similar initiative here and a carefully thought out peace accord that bans catapults, pebbles, shouts and screams could have us soon walking with our baboons.
Maybe then they’ll return Cry and Jacqui’s silverware.