Friday, January 29

Remembrance of Things Past

I've been sick this week, so I decided to bring back and expand an old story which I feel really deserves its own entry. Also someone mentioned something about this being "the place to go for monkey sex stories" or something like that, and I hate to disappoint.

This day in the field had been a trying one already. Twas Friday, and far past noon, the two key ingredients in an itis inducing recipe for fatigue. We had just followed the troop into a bush and tree filled ravine less than an hour earlier. The bushes often stood well over our heads, and some of them were thorny to boot. Visibility and comfort were at a minimum. But, we decided to tough it out in hopes that the monkeys would stop here only briefly, and soon pass on.

Our gamble was lost. The baboons decided to enter the ravine for feeding purposes, and when they feed they can stay for quite a while. We didn't know this at the time, so we just followed them around while they moved back and forth in the tiny valley.

I took a break from this chase, exhausted, and sat down on a large fallen log. I had chosen the spot because it was surrounded on three sides, and out of the way of the baboons. In the dense bushes, one had to keep moving and be constantly vigilant of baboons ahead and behind. Generally, there was one route from place to place within the ravine, so a small appendix jutting off the intestine of the main route was a relief to find.

Let me tell you a thing or two about how the baboons were feeling on this day. The most notable detail was that Nadine was in estrus, and as the second ranking female, Aaron was highly absorbed in her movements, particularly those of her butt. This had been going on for a couple of days, and the two had been mostly inseparable. However, when the troop enters just such a mess of tangles and vines, if two baboons become separated, it can be quite difficult to reconnect, especially if one of them doesn't want to be found.

Just such a situation had developed between Aaron and Nadine, while I sat for a few minutes on that log. Nadine came strolling around the corner (i.e. a tree) and stepped onto the log about ten meters away. She sat.
This is Old Bert, not Nadine... it took a lot for me to not shout OF COURSE THAT'S NOT NADINE HAVEN'T YOU EVER SEEN A FEMALE CHACMA BABOON BEFORE?!
From out of nowhere, Grandpa Bertrand came swaggering towards her. She remained immobile. His bulky coat whirling, he deftly pulled around behind her. At this, she rose and began walking briskly towards me. Bertrand followed, outpacing her, rapidly closing the meter between them. Nadine was now five meters away from me. Three. One.

Impact. Betrand reached out, grabbed her, slid his feet onto her calves, and fired up the plunger.

About five seconds later, Nadine erupted with a "urrrh......urrh......urrh......urrh...urrh...urrh...urrh... urrhurrhurrhurrhurrhurrhurrhurrhurrh......... uuurrrrhh......... uuurrrrhh......... uuurrrrhh" and darted away from Bertrand, breathing laboriously. Its, um... hard to represent a female copulation call onomatopoetically. And I couldn't find anything on youtube, sorry. Researchers like me write whole papers about this stuff, though.

Bertrand plopped down and grunted a few times, and sat down, excess semen plopping from his glans to the surface of the log, about a foot from where I sat. Bertrand looked around for a few moments, I swear he allowed himself an expression of self-satisfaction. The baboon rose again and sauntered into a thicket after about ten more seconds.

Moments later, Aaron bounded around the bend, intensely examining the scene of the crime. His eyes were alight in that special Aaron way. It was just him and me in that small clearing. "Don't look at me, dude," I held up my hands innocently. "I think you understand that there's no way that I was the one who did that..."

Aaron calmed down quite quickly, and sat himself on a rock about ten meters away, readpoting his characteristic impassive poker-face. "You messed up this time, buddy. There's nothing to do now but learn from your error."

A lot of baboon life comes off as "nothing to do but learn what not to do next time." A mother is too lenient with her baby, it walks too far on a tree branch, slips, and falls to its death? Oh well, be more protective of your next baby. A juvenile plays too exuberantly with a baby and the mother's family all rush in to shriek at him with those awful wails? Be more careful of how rough your play is, and who you choose to play with. An alpha male is not vigilant enough of his prize female when she is in estrous and some joker slips in an extra-pair copulation? Tough luck, guard her zealously on her next cycle. A study of different aspects of baboon memory could be fascinating indeed.

In the end, the troop retreated from the ravine... back up the slope to exactly were they had come from. Our tracking adventure had been in vain. It was one of "those" Fridays. You know, the kind where you just thank the powers that you didn't get trampled by an orgasm addled baboon. We all have those days.

EDIT: I found this article while searching for baboon copulation calls. Its an accessible read, and the guy has his sociobiology down pretty nicely.

1 comment:

  1. That was an interesting article, thanks for the link. (You continue to be the foremost blog I go to for information on baboon sex.)