Encounters of the Baboon Kind at Victoria Falls

| Tamlin Wightman

Baboons of Victoria Falls 5


Someone once told me that the opposite of love is fear. Not war, not hate, fear. The contrast between the two is one of the greatest ironies of life, well, my life, at least. That which one might expect a person to be frightened of, like jumping out of a plane or travelling alone or swimming to the edge of the Victoria Falls, I love. That which most would happily embark on instead, most likely, terrifies me.

The most recent reminder of this peculiarity occurred after taking the plunge into Angel’s Pool, that natural infinity pool resting on the rim of the largest waterfall in the world. Having happily, giddily, skipped my way into its pond of gushing Zambezi, I moved on to explore the Falls on foot, with guides, Vasco and Charlton, from our lodge. Within seconds I had Vasco’s bicep clenched in my fists as a troop of baboons descended upon us.

The Falls are known for these cheeky little primates that proclaim starvation as they drool-stare at your innocent backpack. I would take on sky-diving blindfolded out of a microlight over the Zambezi and drop-land in a white-water raft during dry season rather than come head to head with a baboon. I exaggerate. I’m not nearly co-ordinated enough to undertake such a physical feat, but I am definitely not brave enough for an encounter of the baboon kind.


Vasco and Charlton

Above: Royal Chundu Guides and Baboon Bodyguards, Vasco and Charlton

Baboon


But in the name of facing fears, we proceeded. Vasco between me and ape, Charlton at the rear, and the hairy raiders, in our path and, well, wholly unruffled. If you ever need a lesson in cool, visit with an alpaca. When you can’t find one of those, go in search of the baboons of Victoria Falls.

After accepting their disinterest as genuine, I jumped from fear to love in a heartbeat – watching them in the trees of the rainforest lining the Zambian side of the Falls, as they munched on whatever they could find. While they stuffed leftovers into their kangaroo-pouch cheeks to save for a later date, I found myself, for the first time, endeared to them.

No matter how friendly you may get with these blithe animals, never go against the golden rule: Do not feed the baboons. Introduce food into the relationship and you will see how quickly they can lose their cool.


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The yellow baboons we came across differ slightly from their brother, the Chacma baboon. Both are common to Zambia, but perhaps it is the difference between them that endears me to the former kind. The species epithet (Papio cynocephalus) means “dog-head” in Greek, a name the baboon earned on account of the shape of its muzzle and head. It is smaller, its muzzle less elongated, more… dog-like. Its black face with white sideburns makes for a much more handsome mug than that on the Chacma (Papio ursinus).

But at the root, they’re all the same. Cool, until they’re not…


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Baboons might appear, at first, to be pests, messily scavenging through the wilderness as they fancy, but they play a significant role on earth. Their foraging habits help to disperse seeds and they, themselves, serve as both food for larger predators and as predators, helping to keep some smaller animal populations in check.


Baboons


Discover more about the animals you’ll meet on your trip to Royal Chundu in our blog.