They live in harmony with baboons

Many people are afraid of baboons. But the fear is built on misinformation. It is possible to live in harmony with baboons. In Rooi-Els, the villagers have baboons as their closest “wild neighbour”.

Every morning, Gavin Lundie and his wife Lesley take a walk through the small village of Rooi-Els. Their mission is to check on the baboons living in the area.

The village is situated in South Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and mountains on the other.

– There are 28 individuals in the baboon troop living near the village. They sleep in the mountains but there is no food, so they come to the village to eat. They love certain plants, seeds, and bulbs. They don’t eat meat, says Gavin.

Gavin and Lesley have always loved nature. They used to live in Johannesburg, the biggest city in South Africa. It is in the middle of the country. When they retired, they decided to move to the southern part of South Africa.

– We knew there were a lot of baboons in the area. But we didn’t know much about their behaviour, says Gavin.

One day he met a researcher who specialized in baboons. She took them for a walk and talked about the baboon troop in the village.

– She had given all the baboons names, so it was easy for us to keep monitoring them. Watching the baboons has become a hobby, explains Gavin.

Gavin and Lesley are “citizen scientists”. That means that they are ordinary citizens who provide information on nature to the scientists who do research on the subject.

Baboons are playing in the garden.

Bild 1 av 6 Baboons are playing in the garden. Photo: Eric Miller

Baboons climbing on the house.

Bild 2 av 6 Photo: Eric Miller

Baboons in the garden.

Bild 3 av 6 Photo: Eric Miller

Boboons in the garden.

Bild 4 av 6 Photo: Eric Miller

Lesley and Gavin Lundy, stroll past the baboons as they groom each other.

Bild 5 av 6 Lesley and Gavin Lundy stroll past the baboons. Photo: Eric Miller

You should not feed the baboons.

Bild 6 av 6 It is important not to feed the baboons. Photo: Eric Miller

Baboons in South Africa are a protected species. But not all people like baboons. Gavin and Lesley try to teach people how to behave close to baboons.

If the troop of baboons get into a house, they can make a mess. They open cupboards and pull out everything inside them to look for food.

– Baboons know that every house has food in it. If you leave the door or a window open, they enter. They don’t want anything to do with humans. But they want food, says Gavin.

The social pattern is a dominance hierarchy, or “pecking order”. When it comes to food, the leader, called the “alpha male”, always eats first. The alpha male mates with an alpha female. She is the most important female.

If a troop of baboons comes into a house, all the baboons get to eat at the same time. Lower-status baboons may eat before higher ranking baboons. This causes havoc in the troop, and they mess up the house.

– There is a lot of misinformation about baboons. People are afraid of them because they think they attack human beings. That is not correct. If a baboon sees someone carrying a loaf of bread, they might try and steal it. But if you hide the bread under your shirt, the baboon won’t see it, and you can walk peacefully past a baboon, says Gavin.

Gavin and Lesley always try and keep their doors closed. But sometimes they forget. The first time they came to the village they didn’t know about this rule. One of the big male baboons, Cliff, entered the house and took Lesley’s handbag.

– He opened it and pulled out all the things to look at. As it wasn’t food, he didn’t take anything. If a baboon picks something up that’s not food, he or she will just leave it, says Lesley.

When the baboons get into any of the houses in the village, the owner of the house often calls on Gavin for help.

– I walk into the house and start closing the cupboards. I never hit the baboons or even touch them. I raise my hand and show them I am bigger and more confident. When the troop is out, I always check under the beds to make sure no baboon is still hiding inside, says Gavin.

Not long ago, Gavin was sitting outside their house on a bench. Suddenly one of the big male baboons came and sat next to him.

– He didn’t look at me. He didn’t touch me. We just sat there and watched the sea. After a while he left, says Gavin.

Text: Görrel Espelund

A few days old baboon sleeps in the garden while holding on to the mother. Photo: Eric Miller

Rules for living in harmony with baboons

  • Leave them alone and they won’t bother you.
  • Make sure you have dustbins that the baboons can’t open.
  • Don’t leave doors and windows open.
  • Never feed the baboons.
  • If the baboon tries to steal food from you, raise the food up in the air. It shows the baboon that you are taller and stronger.

Social life of baboons

  • An alpha male leads the troop. He is more assertive than other males. He disciplines the baby baboons. He guards his right to mate with the females.
  • An alpha female is the most respected female. She selects the male she wants to mate with. The alpha female and the alpha male often form a couple.
  • The alpha female’s daughters get special treatment, such as better food, because they are more important than the other offspring.
  • It is important to show submission in the hierarchy. A baboon demonstrates submission by showing its bottom to the more senior baboon.
  • They form strong bonds in the troop. Young baboons are very playful and have their favourite friends.
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