Wednesday, October 28

Don't Let This Happen To You

A few days ago, we were up on the mountain with the troop, and followed them into the upper vineyards. This is a common place for them to forage. They don't care for the vines much, but the fallow fields nearby are perfect for them since they are filled with a wild, barley-esque grain.

The group was on edge this day, since the second troop had been spotted a few hills away. There was nothing for our troop to do but avoid them, but certain thresholds had been lowered...

Alia has been acting a bit off-color lately, probably because she is pissed that her baby died. Today, she decided to blow off some steam in the vineyards.

Alia lashed out at one of the juvenile females. We don't know why. Maybe it was a fluke, maybe she had a smaller altercation with the juvenile's mother earlier in the day and decided to take it out on the child. However, Alia is not a high ranking female, so her chasing and swatting at a higher ranked juvenile made a lot of the females unhappy.

The chase quickly changed shape, and Alia became the target of the rage of almost a dozen baboons. She screamed and ran, while the others screamed and followed. All the while, I stood in one of the vine rows with my supervisor, quietly observing and recording. Then, the chase halted, and Alia was left surrounded by the opposing force of baboons. She grunted threateningly at them, and they responded in kind.

Then, Alia turned her gaze up, towards me. I was standing a dozen meters behind the arc of baboons threatening Alia. She threat-grunted in my direction, and raised her eyebrows repeatedly, a clear aggressive gesture.

Instantaneously, the other baboons wheeled about, threat-grunted, and raised their eyebrows in my direction.I froze. I had no idea what happened; if I was their target. Bottom line was that a dozen angry baboons staring at me with murderous intent.

This is a classic Oh Shit moment in zoology. Pissing off a male is easy to fix. You back down immediately and show you are submissive. Male fights are dangerous and costly - they won't fight you if you show them they've already won. Mothers are a different story. When you're surrounded by a horde of them, it is usually very unclear why they feel threatened by you. One cannot say what the smart move is. A dozen angry baboon females can bring on far more hurt than a lone, lumbering male.

So I froze in fear.  The seconds crawled by, and after... (probably) 3 seconds, the females returned to screaming and barking and all dispersed throughout the field.

Maybe they were threatening me, maybe they were not, maybe I did something to scare them off or maybe they realized their mistake and the silliness of their actions. No one can know the mind of an angry mob, whether it be human or baboon. I prefer to just be thankful.

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