Like most Americans, I get extraordinarily excited about monkeys. Ryan and Eric were no different. When we first saw them at the side of the road in Livingstone we had to stop the car and take photos. And, like most Americans, anything that has a long tail, small ears, and remotely resembles Curious George is called a monkey, even if it’s a baboon.
Here in Africa monkeys and baboons are nuisances. They steal food. They’re rude. They don’t mind their manners. And they will swipe a lollypop from a baby and laugh about it. I think what fascinates Americans about monkeys/baboons is how they’re like little fuzzy baby people. Here was a common scene along the paths at the Victoria Falls park.
Aren’t they cute?
The nuisance aspect soon emerged. Some little grade school boy was walking down a path with his classmates with his sack lunch. Before you could say George of the Jungle the baboon had run up and snatched his lunch away. Of course, attempts to retrieve his lunch failed – the baboon ran faster, squeezed through some brush, and climbed a tree. Then helped himself with long knobby fingers to the goodies in the sack.
A group of young backpackers came down a path with fresh loaves of bread swinging from their hands. One of the girls was lagging behind and I saw this baboon pretending to sit innocently on the fencepost, but eye-ing her bread.
I went up to her and said, you better put that in your backpack, one of those kids up there just lost his lunch. By this time Wily the baboon was circling dangerously close to she and I (we were separated from the pack). Thom saw this, puffed up his chest, and walked purposefully toward us. The baboon ran to the rail again and pretended to admire the falls, with occasional sneaky glances at us. (Thom’s a very good alpha baboon.) The group quickly put all of their food into their backpacks and zipped them up securely.
Ryan wanted to see if the baboons would really come snatch something out of his hand, so he retrieved the empty bag of Doritos out of the truck and started walking nonchalantly down the entry drive to the park.
Sure enough, the instant Ryan started walking a baboon started following him and as soon as a car passed, ran up and snatched the Doritos. Though the bag was empty he seemed pretty happy with the crumbs. I was standing next to a fence on the drive videotaping the encounter. (And, like Dr. Doolittle, I cannot help but talking to the baboon, as you’ll hear in the video clip. He was trying to ignore me but I know he understood every word I said.)
At the last moment a car drove by and the baboon tried to make a hasty escape — and ran straight towards me! You’ll see in the video that he was aiming to go through the three inches between me and the fence but stopped and turned back. I’m momentarily frozen as he nearly ran into me and held my breath. When he turned the other way you’ll here me let out a “yikes.”
Because we were plum out of food they ignored us. I jumped down into Thom’s arms, and Eric, not wanting to be outdone, demonstrated his undying commitment to the Ryan-Eric bromance.