Here’s a long overdue update from our release team who are up in Kasungu National Park monitoring the troop of baboons that were released this January. We are over the moon with the extraordinary results so far! Read on for what would make a great soap opera, in Anne and Sebas’ own words…
Our baboons have been doing very well. Some of the ladies got pregnant, which is a good sign. Little fights, quietly exploring their territory further. Finding the new types of food that come with each new seasons. But their wanderings didn’t go unnoticed. Other troops watched warily how our group entered their territories. There have been two main groups to contend with – “The Neighbours” and “The Others”. The Neighbours have been around since the beginning of the release. They are a small troop of nine with one big male which was no real competition for our group of 25 with four adult males. The troops checked each other out on a regular basis, they came so close to each other that a merger would have surprised nobody. In the end the alpha male of The Neighbours thought he would be better off with his females all to himself and left for different territory.
Then there were The Others. This was a different story. These were more than 30 wild baboons. With wild experience. And macho muscles! Our group wouldn’t stand a chance, that is if it wasn’t for Juri. Juri is our top alpha male who thinks he can handle them all. Alone. He would run off and chase the scouts of The Others back to their troop. There would be fights, but he never got wounded, which made him even more confident. Growing up in captivity might have affected his judgement a bit. He didn’t get wounded, because they didn’t want to hurt him but they easily could have. He didn’t get it and didn’t back off and so the tension rose.
The two troops would approach each other led by the big males with the females and babies kept as far as possible from the battle-lines. One day this climaxed into a tense staring contest with both groups on one side of an open field and males from both sides closing in and sending patrols around to the other side. At this stage of the release the baboons need to fend for themselves as much as possible with preferably no interference from the release team, but on this occasion we saw Juri being pushed to his limit and something had to be done. Scared that war was at hand and our baboons would get seriously injured in a fight they could never win, we decided to add a secret weapon to the conflict: The Humans! Just standing up, showing we were there with them, gave our group a massive advantage. When The Others backed off and Juri’s ego was satisfied, our group retreated as well and the day ended in peace with all baboons in one piece.
Unfortunately Juri didnt take this as the lesson we had hoped, and continued with his feisty ways. We took a few steps to protect the group again but realised that we would have to take a step back as we would not be able to be on hand forever. That same day Juri took off, got into a fight and got his face ripped apart which was devastating for us. But he needs to learn to fight his own battles. He calmed down after this, took time to heal and realised he cannot always win. Tough lesson.
Next thing we know, one of The Others decided to join our group. He was probably the one to injure Juri, so no discussion there. To the rest of the group he was very polite. Over a period of weeks he manoeuvred himself into the group. His tactics – a combination of hostile takeover and political moves – seems to have worked and he is currently a candidate for leadership. We have called him Alexander. Juri has recovered and still has the support of most females. Number two, Lucky, also fancies his chances, so nothing is decided yet.
In the meantime those babies are not waiting for any war or takeovers. Two have been born and number three is on the way. Our fragile Magda has given birth to her firstborn, Nina. Little Richard thinks he is the father and is very protective. MacKenzie, our big number two female, gave birth to baby Cathy who is already bigger than 3 weeks old Nina. These wild born babies will see us every now and then for the next three months and from then on will live a life far from humans after this, with a true wild baboon around to show them some extra tricks for surviving in the wild!
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