In spite of the downsides, there are some great parts about working with troop 2. You're much more up in the wilds of the region, and those places are incredible scenic. There are houses and fences and people around the lower areas. Up where troop 2 sleeps, the only people you see are bikers, and the only house I've seen is this one:
Finding housing has been difficult for some of the field researchers lately, so we joked about the possibilities of living here.
It must have been an amazing place when it was still standing, considering the views that remain.
As it happens, very little of the vegetation here is natural. The fauna has remained much the same as it was hundreds of years ago (at least the baboons are still here). Originally, this area was part of the well-known southern African bush - a terrain which still survives in the vast rural regions of South Africa. When the Europeans came, they planted pines and eucalyptus trees for their own uses. The pine aren't like any I've seen in North America. They do have an African feel to them, I think due to the empty lower branches, and the large canopy-like upper branches. Eucalyptus trees are just something I've never been around before, so I didn't even realize that they were completely out of place.
In the modern era, there is some talk of removing all this foreign vegetation and letting the bush regrow. However, the introduced flora is not too invasive, and really that would cost tons of money. Plus, a large portion of the hillsides are now dominated by the vineyards (you can see them in the above photograph). There are a lot of wineries in and around Cape Town. The similarities with the California valleys are difficult to ignore.
It all adds up to some pretty spectacular views.
For a first example, the mothers don't like me going near their infants. If I move within 30 meters of them, they won't take their eyes off me, and if I get within 15, they'll usually walk away. The young baboons are much more likely to get out of my way when I'm moving near (not even through, mind you) their position. In baboon behavior, this is often a sign of respect to the dominance hierarchy, but this was my first time with these baboons, so I wasn't even part of the hierarchy. To be fair, it being my first time with them was good reason for them to be wary, but compared to the other baboons on my first days with them, it was quite surprising.
On the other hand, a female colleague was being... well... the baboon might well have been "hitting on" her. One or two males were particularly ballsy - she was standing on flat spot on the hillside recording some observations, and this big male swaggers by, moving right past her ankle on his way down the slope. Gave her the creeps. He made another pass, later, and she moved away. I swiveled my own position (which was sitting on a stump) to be more in line with him, but he effectively ignored me and continued to follow her a ways. So much for my masculinity keeping the baboons in line by my presence. When my colleague irritatedly explained what happened later, it became rather hilarious. Its not often you get to hear a researcher call a baboon a "jerk" because of a personal insult.
Towards the end of our work day (which in my world means noon), troop 2 pressed into the eucalyptus forest on their way to forage in the vineyards. I had a pair of first time experiences within. Firstly, a young baboon, probably a 3 year old female, came quite close to me where I sat on a log, taking a rest. She was looking at me directly, and wiggling her ears (a sign of good intentions in baboons). We though she might be threatening me, but after watching further, she seemed to be trying to be genuinely friendly towards me.
Unfortunately, the tender moment was cut short by the approach of a young adult male who is known as the "asshole" of the group. He made a swift appearance and was definitely threatening me. There is a simple formula for dealing with this. If sitting, get up. Once standing, turn around, and step away, in order to display submissiveness. Baboons will not fight unless they absolutely have to. Most social animals work this way. If you show them they've "won," they'll usually leave you alone.