The incident that convinced me of the notion that baboons possess the power of thought occurred at Khwai North Gate in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana. In many camp-sites across Africa, baboons are a menace when it comes to stealing food from campers.
There was a male at North Gate that was particularly insistent and it became a battle of wills to keep him away. I was running a safari parallel with colleague, Brodie Poole. Brodie tirelessly tried a number of methods to outwit this persistent baboon.
Back then, the rubbish bins in public camp-sites were made of mesh, making it easy for the baboons to pick pieces out. To curb this behaviour, Brodie began to set the rubbish alight inside the bin. This seemed to work. That is, until the male eventually figured the barbecue-bin out. The baboon began pushing the bin over, then rolling it on the ground. With each roll something crunchy and edible would fall out.
Brodie's next plan was to tie a ski rope to the bin. He threw the other end of the rope over a branch, and hauled the bin to a height out of reach of the baboon. It was not long before the baboon ambled over and after a few jumps at the bin realised he couldn't reach it.
The baboon looked at the situation for a few minutes and, after a brief glance at the spectators, climbed the tree, walked along the branch to the rope and pulled the bin up to meet him. This is not instinct. This is an example of careful thought.
It has been noted that sunsets have a similar affect on baboons and humans. Baboons are diurnal, this means that the fading of the day brings with it the daytime alarm-call to get to safety.
And yet, I have often seen baboons sitting on their rear ends and staring into the sunset, as if they were calmly contemplating something. The only bit that seems to separate humans and baboon behaviour in this particular ritual is a sun-downer drink.
By Leigh Kemp