Thursday, September 1

Rural Legends

One day, about a year ago, I heard a colleague recalling a tale from the north of the country, about how the baboon up there would raid the local farms, and at times, they would not only take food with them, but puppies. I inititally assumed the puppies were being dragged along to be eaten, despite the fact that baboons do not hunt. I was quickly corrected, for according to the story, the puppies were subdued by the baboons, for as long as necessary, until they behaved as if they were born baboons.

The idea was that the baboons were basically forcing the dogs to ethologically imprint on them, causing the dogs to identify with the baboons as members of their own species, other dogs. What is odd is that the puppies, at least those in the video, are not terribly young, which is usually a requirement for successful imprinting. On the other hand, humans can adopt puppies who have been raised by a mother for some time. The likely key is that the dog is a domesticated species, altered to allow for easier taming and imprinting. Konrad Lorenz had no such advantage when he trained his geese.

You hear a lot of crazy things about baboons from some of the locals, that they eat farm animals by night, or cast magical curses on innocent townsfolk, so at the time, I assumed that the yarn about dogs being raised as baboons was just another tall tale. What baboon would sit on top of a dog for years until it wised up?

I'm not one to contradict video evidence, though. In the future, perhaps I will be able to know better: though I originally heard the story from an unreliable source, it was corroborated by the aforementioned colleague, who I trust. He hadn't seen any such cases first-hand, but the evidence he'd been presented with was convincing enough for him. The truth of the phenomenon makes it no less impressive. Monkeys, baboons included, are often quite impatient, and I am honestly shocked that baboons around the continent have the forethought and will to tame their own dogs.

I look forward to reading a scholarly paper on this process any day now.