Picnic With Baboons
On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Picnic With Baboons
In many of the popular game parks and reserves in Africa, the authorities go out of their way to provide amenities for visitors. Quite naturally, a few picnic tables scattered here and there seems to make sense. Unfortunately, having a picnic at a picnic table is usually an unsettling experience. Lots of wild animals like to hang around picnic areas because they know there might be food there. Among the peskiest of critters are the baboons.
Baboons are impertinent moochers, at best. At worst, they snatch the food right out of your hands. If they are not already at the picnic site when you show up, they soon appear; seemingly out of nowhere. They approach close enough to allow you to read their body language, especially the movement of their eyes. And their eyes are always on your food.
It is a mistake to think that you can pacify them by tossing them bits of food. Unknowing tourists who are unfamiliar with African wildlife might think that feeding them up close is a novel gesture, but that makes matters worse. If and when baboons think that they can wrest food from your hands, they just might try. The Footloose Forester has witnessed food-snatching baboons in action, on several occasions. They mean you no harm, but they think nothing of jumping up from the ground and grabbing the food out of your hand. So, forget about putting a picnic lunch on the table when baboons are around.
Not all places where animals abound, such as in national parks and fenced-in game reserves, have troupes of baboons hanging around, but when you spot them, you know that they have spotted you. On one occasion in Nairobi National Park, we decided to eat our lunch under the shade of some tall trees near the bank of a stream. There was a convenient parking area off the main road, a few picnic tables, and one or more trash barrels where refuse could be deposited. But the baboons soon appeared even before we got out of our SUV, so the Footloose Forester announced to our visitors that we would have to eat our lunch in the car. Although there were trees around, the parking area was still in the hot sun and one of our guests starting eating an apple while cracking open the side window, in order to make it cooler. Too late! A baboon that was perched on the roof of the SUV immediately reached in and snatched the apple out of his hand.
A congress of baboons in session
On another occasion, and as we were departing from a small convenience store located on the main road in the semi-desert stretch between Nairobi and Mombasa, a baboon jumped up to snatch a candy bar from an unsuspecting girl who made the mistake of opening it too soon. When the baboon saw it exposed in her hand, he lunged at her and slammed her into the side of the building. Although we had seen a few baboons hanging around in front of the store when we entered, they waited until our young neighbor emerged with a few goodies.
By far the peskiest troupe of baboons that the Footloose Forester remembers was at Lake Naivasha National Park about a hundred miles northwest of Nairobi. There are so many baboons that regularly congregate near the park entrance that nobody needs to be told to stay in your vehicle; and to keep the windows closed. Having a picnic there is out of the question. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photo above says it all.
Dick, I have seen documentaries about this but nothing like this photo. What a ridiculous experience! Another typical day in the life of the Footloose Forrester. Unbelievable!
Tom, as you can imagine, many of the things I have seen are so bizarre that I felt an urge to share some stories with others. In the photo shown as part of this story, the baboons were disappointed in not finding any food. But when they smell food, the commotion is frightening. The authorities are helpless to change things, short of ridding the premesis of all baboons.