07 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Walking With Baboons

Like most South Africans, I tend to view baboons with a slightly jaundiced eye. They’re easily seen, sometimes pesky, and formidably strong.

Jenni Trethowan changed my mind about them. She runs Baboon Matters out of Kommetjie, Cape Town and is passionate about these somewhat persecuted and misunderstood beasts.

Lean, with a mop of bright hair, Jenni took me and a family from Johannesburg on a walk with a baboon troop.

It was only when we stopped halfway up the hill and stood in the fynbos, bright pink pelargoniums flowering all around, that I understood what a special experience this was.

Less than a metre from me stood a mother with a young baby sitting upright on her back, completely trusting of our intentions. Jenni said baboons are past masters at reading human body language, and know instantly if anyone is a threat to them.

The baby watched her mother plucking and eating sour figs, then tried them out herself. Other youngsters cavorted and played nearby, safe under the protection of the massively built troop leader, slouching in the shade of a waboom tree. I’d never been so close to baboons, or felt so connected to them. It was a surprisingly moving experience.

Taking paying tourists out on walks with the baboons helps pay the salaries of ‘monitors’ who walk with the troop all day, encouraging them to stay away from urban areas. With us were Enoch Sityi and Vuyisile Mayedwa from nearby Masiphumelele.

They told us that while they spent their lives essentially slow-chasing the baboons away from civilization, at five o clock in the afternoon, the tables are turned. The baboons gently ‘chase’ the monitors back down the hill, uttering a soft ohohohoh - their ‘goodbye’ sound.

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