21 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Jack the Baboon

There are various theories on the intelligence of wild animals. My favourite story is the one about a baboon in Uitenhage who became a signalman on the railway.

Jack was owned by James Wide, who had lost his legs when he fell under a moving train. This was back in the late 1800s. One day he saw a baboon leading an oxwagon pulled by a full team of oxen, and realised this was one clever ape.

He bought Jack and learnt his likes and dislikes. Jack had a powerful love for brandy and would sulk for a day or more James didn’t give him a tot of Cape Smoke every night.

But his main talent was for manning the signal boxes. He learnt the whistle blasts the locomotive drivers gave and would change the signals without error.

Of course, one passenger was horrified and reported this to the authorities. They fired James Wide and all seemed lost when, perhaps out of curiosity, they decided to test the baboon.

The locomotive drivers were given secret signals. Jack performed infallibly. The Railways people were so impressed they reinstated James Wide and officially employed Jack the Signalman too. He got his own employees number and monthly rations.

Passengers would throw him treats, but he remained very fond of his Cape Smoke Brandy, and the odd candle.

Category: Wildlife

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