We will shortly be entering the third year of our release programme, and this year the lucky ones are a carefully selected troop of 22 yellow baboons who will soon be making their way to Kasungu National Park for a life of true freedom.
Releasing primates is no easy feat; they are incredibly intelligent animals with complex social structures and the strength of the troop as a whole will have an enormous influence on their survival chances in the wild. We have a large intake of yellow baboons and, sadly, not all of them are able to be released. Some have spent too long in the company of humans before arriving at the Centre and some have major behavioural problems that would not be suitable for life in the wild. We did, however, have plenty that had the potential to adapt well and have put them together to see how they fare.
Each and every baboon in question underwent a vigorous screening process over the last nine months in a specially designed enclosure by our pre-release research assistant, Marta Miguel. Marta is on first name basis with all the baboons and can instantly tell who is who, just from the minor physical differences between them. This is imperative to understand each baboon independently and see how they develop within the group.
Marta, with the help of our volunteers, carried out behavioural observations every day, for 4-5 hours at a time, looking at the group cohesion, individual survival skills and their general health and wellbeing. The individual survival skills we look for include foraging for wild food, sleeping in appropriate positions, and their all-important predator awareness skills. As well as monitoring the baboons individually, Marta has also been interpreting the group dynamic to ensure that they are working as a team with a social structure similar to that of wild baboons.
Any baboon that was not deemed ‘fit for release’ during the nine months of monitoring has unfortunately been removed from the group as they would put they rest of the baboons at risk. But, all of Marta’s work has paid off and what we have now, a week from their release date, is a 22-strong troop with babies on the way…
Before they leave, however, we have a chaotic week ahead of us, catching each baboon so that we can transport them to Kasungu National Park, a four hour drive away. Once there, they will spend 3-4 days in a release enclosure to get used to their surrounding before we open the door for the last time and watch the troop head off on their own, wild adventure.
Of course, we do not say goodbye to them forever! Ten of them will be fitted with radio collars and the troop will be followed and observed by our new Primate Release Project Manager in Kasungu, Amanda Harwood. They will still have a lot of learning and adapting to do in the wilderness and Amanda is going to keep an eye on the troop and analyse the success of the release over the next ten months. She will be monitoring them from dusk till dawn, seven days a week, to document their progress. We will be sure to keep you updated on their development over the coming months, and if you would like to help further by sponsoring one of the baboons for release, meet some of the biggest baboon personalities here
Photos by Amanda Harwood