During the summer of 2006, I met a wild troop of baboons while carrying an orphaned baby baboon called Rhiannon around the property we rented in The Crags. Bud, the current alpha, had not joined this group yet and all I recall about the alpha male – at the time – was his apparent outrage towards me for carrying a baboon baby. I guess from his perspective, having seen his kind being severely persecuted in the area for so long, his immediate response was to assume that I probably had bad intentions towards the young infant in my arms.
Over time, this troop came to trust me – after witnessing my bond with various orphans – both vervets and baboons over the years.
They’d watch when I nursed the injured, and listen when I comfort grunted in either vervet or chacma, depending on who I was speaking to.
They came to understand that my presence in the area was not one of hostility but one that provided shelter for all wildlife, particularly those who were persecuted and injured.
This mutual understanding took some years and resulted in me being relieved to discover that just as this group of baboons could rely on me to not harm them, I could do the same.
Baboons rely on a reciprocal social system.
I’d shown them a number of times that while they could not cross certain boundaries, (for example, taking food from me), I would not harm any of the individuals in the group. In return, I was rewarded with the secure knowledge that they would not harm any monkey, cat, dog, or chicken in my care for those animals were part of my extended troop
It takes some understanding of wild primate language – along with a fair amount of patience – but once one manages to keep a balance with the local baboon neighbors whereby they understand not to push too much but to trust that you will not go as far as harming them, the potential relationship that can then unfold is one that demystifies the many misconceptions we have been taught by humans about these misunderstood primates for way too long.