Saturday, January 2

A Policy of Reconciliation

One morning with the troop, I witnessed a scuffle between two small juveniles. The baboons were little more than infants, aged between one and two years. Both had probably been weaned very recently, and one of them might still be darting in for a quick nip once a day.

I arrived at the scene after the tumult had begun. These two little tykes were biting and screaming at each other. This is hardly news in Baboonland; monkeys will scream during almost every instance of play. However, there is a thin line over which one baboon can cross, and across that line is aggression rather than "simple" play... I'll save the treatise on how the two behaviors are phylogenetically equivalent for another time.

One of these guys clearly broke the pact of playful violence. This, too, is common place. One of the little ones will scurry away, and repeatedly wail his discontent away. Often, older juveniles will come to aid the others, break up the tussle, or perhaps diffuse tension with their mere presence.

The struggle between these two juveniles was somehow perceived by me to be a level or two above the usual scuffle. Even in the presence of the older juveniles, the two were not dissuaded from battling. Eventually, they broke apart, but the violence was far from ended. Each displaced their frustrations on other surrounding juveniles, lunging and swiping at the others. A few smaller fights ensued, but it was clear that these were only half-hearted struggles. Once the two juveniles broke apart, both would emit this rhythmic low whining sound, a bit like a off and on growl or grumble.

The grumbling continued for several minutes, until finally the two broke away from their fellows, whether by choice or for ostracization I could not tell. Then, the two growling baboon juveniles began closing the distance between them. Slowly they creeped towards one another, their motion persistently supported by their growls.

This is it, I thought eagerly. These two are going to have it out with each other right here and now! What trump moves have they not yet played?
The unexpected happened. There was no intense brawl, no torn flesh, or vicious screaming which I have become so accustomed to seeing. The two animals came within reach of one another, clasped each other in their arms, and hugged.

The grumbling continued for a bit, and the two looked about warily, but t'were completely comfortable in the embrace of the other. It was an unconditional reconciliation. The two were clearly still agitated, and the grumbling continued for some time before gradually abating, but the climax had passed, and the two baboons became noticeably calmer over time with the help of the other's assurances.

After witnessing the cruel and unforgiving world of baboon sociality for these months, it was nice to see something different. It is good to be surprised.

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