Friday, January 22

Troop Mind Journal 01/12

The troop came down from the trees at the break of dawn, and started their day off with a strenuous session of waiting. They sat in the sun and shade, laying, playing, and grooming. All good things must come to an end, however, though not always as one expects.

Very soon after descended from the firs, Damian and Lauren began edging away from the group, toward the mountain. Prime feeding grounds are located near this sleeping site, just across a field of fynbos, which the baboons pass through almost every day.

Every ten minutes or so, Lauren would get up from some grooming combination among Damien's threesome and walk towards the trees north of the field. There's nothing in the trees, except maybe the baboons of another troop.

It turned out there weren't, though. Lauren's been acting funny lately, she keeps looking for the other group. Usually she wanders in the right direction but gives up after a while. Other times she's found them, and dragged Damian and sometimes the whole troop along with her.

Which brings us back to this particular day. Damian followed her, and eventually the whole troop was diverted to the north, around the feeding grounds. Aaron sure seemed to want to go feed. The others probably did as well. Why was this chain of events a success?

Was the troop following Damian, and Damian following Lauren? Were they all following that single female baboon? Lauren was making contact barks, usually only emitted when an animal is lost. Was this added stimulus enough to alter the "good sense" of the rest of the troop?

If the bark hypothesis is correct, it would imply there are deep complexities in how strongly a baboon wishes to move toward a particular goal. This seems likely, but how effectively can other baboons interpret these feelings? As researchers, we can hear the barks, but we can't tell exactly what they mean in context, and furthermore, the subtle visual communication between baboons adds another whole level of complexity.

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