In the continuing vein of "silly things baboons do around humans," I have another story about one of young tykes. But first a quick bit on instruction in the multifunctional rear end of the monkey.
Old world monkeys, including baboons, have these prominant hard spots on their butts called callosities. They're good for sitting on because they're basically what they sound like - giant calluses.
The butt is also known for the swellings which are these grotesque pink balloons that tell you when an female is ready for plunder. Well not you I hope, but the males. The females will often times dash up to the males and stick their behinds to in the males' faces, thus "presenting" the goods, in hopes of getting a quickie (the young females particularly like to do this because they are really desperate and none of the adult males want to have sex with them). Hence the term presentation hold a major place in our vocabulary as primatologists.
Over the years, species have come and gone, and presentation has become both a functional and ritualistic behavior. From yielding to the reproductive designs of the males, the behavior has taken on larger dominance/submissiveness connotations, so that presentation (and beyond that, mounting) becomes a sign of dominance removed from any actual intercourse. The adult females out of estrus do it, the males do it to one another, and the young juveniles and infants do it.
The last category is relevant to today's misadventure. I was chilling out with the usual pack of jokers, also know as the juveniles. They appeared to be interested in initiating one of the black infants, at that moment. They'd probably lose interest in about 10 minutes. Young playing baboons aren't exactly well-known for their attention spans.
Aforementioned "blackie" (as the young black infants are affectionately referred to) slowly began to approach my position, while I was none the wiser. I was a fair distance away, taking a breather, propped against a dead log. I took notice when the sprog bounded up to me like an excitedly puppy. She looked at me for a bit. I looked back, suspiciously. I looked around for the mother or some larger protecting male. Getting up might scare her, which wouldn't help me in my predicament at all.
The staring contest was cut short when the blackie took action. She awkwardly leaped up into the air, spun around, and landed, her backside fully presented to me.
I continued to stare in some amazement. As if to say, "I don't think you understood me, let me show you again," she returned to her original position, and then performed the same awkward flip into presentation. She repeated the acrobatic sequence a couple more times.
To be entirely honest, I was quite flattered. It was quite adorable to have a baby baboon display its submissiveness to me. The energy it put into the behavior was refreshing as well. She seemed all too happy to recognize me as being above her in the hierarchy.
That's probably nicest part about this - a feeling of inclusion is very difficult to obtain around baboons When they grow older than a year, and they notice you near by, the juveniles just stare at you like you're some kind of alien visitor from another planet. The youngest of the infants don't have brains developed enough to tell us apart from their own species. Or at least they're just confused enough to think us worthy the effort. This one was older, so she might have just been practicing on me, though that would require a complicated mental state that I'm not sure any baboon possesses. Either way, my own perception of the situation, correct or not, played an equally important role in the magic of the moment.
Gibraltar Neandertal research featured in the New York Times Magazine