By Alma van Dorenmalen
Kezi a female yellow baboon arrived at the centre in 2012 when she was approximately 6 months old. She was confiscated after being sold on the road side. The illegal pet trade is common in Malawi and Lilongwe Wildlife Centre often receives animals that have been taken from their mothers in the wild to be sold on. The mothers are often killed for bushmeat.
Kezi was traumatised when she arrived and showed a good deal of abnormal behaviour – when she got stressed she would bite herself and run around in circles with her leg around her neck. After she was integrated in the yellow baboon group she improved a great deal and became a happy, playful baboon finding companionship with other younger baboons.
This orphan season it was time to test Kezi’s maternal instincts. Two orphaned yellow baboons, Haggis and Chuck, arrived close together in December 2015. Both were very young and needed 24 hour orphan care from our staff and volunteers but our goal is always to keep human contact to a minimum and introduce them to their own kind as soon as possible, ideally a foster mother. Haggis, the oldest of the two, had already shown some bold behaviour and would be quite boisterous with Chuck so we needed to see how he would get on with an older baboon and learn some better baboon manners. Chuck was always seeking protection and wanted to cling to anyone rather than having to deal with Haggis all the time, and he needed some motherly love to show him what to do.
Kezi was initially placed next to Haggis and Chuck in a separate enclosure. This way we could see how Haggis and Chuck would respond to Kezi and vice versa without anyone getting injured. Integrating two orphan primates with a foster mother does not always work, since it is not natural for a yellow baboon to take care of two infants at the same time, and it was likely that Kezi would pick only one (often the youngest) over the other.
Kezi started by walking along the fence and lip smacking to both Haggis and Chuck, with Chuck immediately running up to Kezi who then tried to grab him through the fence. Perfect first signs! Haggis was a bit nervous about this new, much bigger, addition and stayed at a safe distance. After a couple of minutes his curiosity got the better of him and he moved over to the fence to get a closer look. She waited for him to come over and just briefly inspected him, not forcing anything.
After opening the slide it was Chuck who clinged on to Kezi without any hesitation. As expected Haggis kept his distance although Kezi was showing only positive behaviour towards him. Haggis started to focus on me since he was seeking support from a human being. I could not blame him, after all he only had had contact with people since he was taken away from his mother at such a young age. After I left him he started crying – not easy to walk away, but it was for the best. Soon he realized that there was no point and he stopped after 20 minutes. When I then came over, Kezi was holding the two infants and walking with them while they clinged on to her. Both utterly content with their new Supermom!
Alma van Dorenmalen is from the Netherlands and is Lilongwe Wildlife Centre’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Manager. She first volunteered for LWC for 5 months from August 2013 till January 2014 whilst studying for her degree in Veterinary Naturopathic Therapies. She then came back in September 2014 as Rehabilitation Coordinator and was promoted to Rescue and Rehabilitation Manager in January 2016.