Breakfast with Monkeys

| Tamlin Wightman

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Wild animals have perfected the game of playing hard to get. In our relationship with them – one of equality and respect – they make the first move. Should we get impatient, lose ourselves in the excitement, and venture closer, we only scare them away.

Most of the time, when I try to befriend a wild animal, engage in the sort of friendship that involves only the language of eyebrows and arms, ala Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, I don’t get very far. That’s what keeps it special, real and wild – the approach and the intimacy of getting to know each other, with a sniff and a call and trust gained over time. That’s the way of the wild and it is one that presents itself at moments when you least expect it.

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Breakfast seems to be such a moment. Perhaps it has to do with the coolness of the morning, the animals’ stirring from slumber, or the smell of freshly-brewed coffee.

On the banks of the Zambezi, while the hippos and crocodiles stir in the water and the morning birds make their songs known, the vervet comes out to play. The vervet, an animal of incredible stealth, more brazen than the other wild things of our river. These monkeys may not come up to us humans, but they have no qualms about getting acquainted with the breakfast table.

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We don’t encourage their light-fingered filching and deter them with a swift foot stomp, but their antics, their rooftop-strutting, their tree-swinging, even their pastry-pinching, amuse us until the last plate has been cleared from this first meal of the day.

Here is a look at our recent breakfast with the vervets of the Zambezi.

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For more about an animal not too different in both looks and habits to the vervet – the baboon – read our blog, Encounters of the Baboon Kind at Victoria Falls.