Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Other Residents of Our Camp

We aren't the only primates who inhabit our camp here in the Mara. Vervet monkeys, bushbabies, and baboons also call Fisi Camp home, and their presence can at times be quite amusing, but it can also be quite irksome.

The vervet monkeys squawk at each other all day long, use the tarps over our tents as trampolines, and spend a lot of time devising plans to steal any food we might unwittingly leave out of a zippered tent (or, on occasion, in one). They watch us from the haven of the bushes, and when they think we aren't looking they creep closer and closer, jumping on the tarps above each tent if they have the chance. If we are vigilant enough to catch them in the act, they freeze and look at us for a moment like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar, then scamper off back into the bushes. This continues, and each time the vervets try a new route to their destination. It all basically amounts to a giant game of capture-the-flag, with the fruit in our kitchen tent as the flag. Yesterday I spotted a vervet getting close on my right side so I yelled, "I see you!" and it ran off. Apparently, however, it didn't think I saw it double back into the bushes, because two minutes later it was creeping toward me again, this time from my left side. This time I stood up and yelled and it got the message, at least for another few minutes. I wonder if I catch one if it will put its hands on its head and walk to a designated vervet jail…

The bushbabies are barely recognizable as primates—they look more like gremlins (but only Gizmo, the cute gremlin). They are about the size of a stuffed animal, all black, and with huge pointy ears. They have a long tail and they are adept trapeze artists, often leaping from tent pole to tent pole with ease. One, which my labmates have named Milo, is especially fond of hanging around at dinner time, and when he is lucky enough to get a scrap, he eats it very carefully with his tiny little hands—definitely his most human-like quality (well, besides his gluttony).

Then there are the baboons. Baboons are a bit more problematic because they are a lot bigger (a large male is the size of a small man), have very sharp teeth, and are a lot gutsier when it comes to stealing our stuff. We've had an assortment of belongings stolen by baboons, primarily containers of sugar. One time a box of wine went missing, and after a few days we found the remains of the container discarded in the woods. Suffice it to say I imagine THAT was a fun evening for that baboon! One particular male has his own specific spot in the woods where he stashes his loot, and we have found many of our things there, the most amusing of which was a pack of D-cell batteries. I'm not sure what a male baboon needs with D-cell batteries, but perhaps he's building something, in which case we should probably offer him our electrical tape and our spare wires and see what he comes up with. Last summer I was sitting under at our main table one afternoon, and this very same male walked to about ten feet from me and sat down. I saw him and started warning him to stay away, at which point he seemed to contemplate my threat level (I'm 5'1") and proceeded to march right up to the lab tent and go inside. He emerged a minute later with our box of banana bread in his hand, paused long enough to give me a look that my labmate Andy oh-so-accurately described as the baboon equivalent of an obscene gesture, and ran off to his spot in the woods. I now know that I need to start yelling a lot earlier and wave my arms, which seems to work. Our banana bread is FAR too precious for me to let that guy get the better of me again.


Michelle said...

I am thoroughly enjoying this blog. The visuals are rich, and your posts put me right in the middle of camp or the field with you. Terrific documentation (for those of us who are non-scientists) of terrific research. Thanks, and keep those posts coming!

Anonymous said...

All gremlins are mogwais, but I'm not sure that all mogwais are gremlins. Gizmo, my dear Les, was a mogwai. But we're splitting hairs and if you base your case on the roots of the word then I'm almost assuredly wrong.

Your blogs have been fantastic so far-- keep it up. I'll spread the word.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science