Chobe’s Chacma characters

“What is it that awakens in my soul when I catch the scent of rain, when I see the sun and moon rise and set on all the colours of the earth, when I approach the heart of wilderness? For indeed something does move and enliven me in my spirit, something that defines my very being in the world, I realise my humanity in proportion as I perceive my reflection in the landscape that enfolds me. It has always been so.” ~ N. Scott

Along the Chobe river upstream of Kasane to Serondela there are several troops of baboons. Two primates are found along the Chobe river, the Chacma baboon and the Vervet monkey. Baboons are Old World monkeys. There are five extant species of baboon – olive, yellow, Chacma, Guinea and Sacred or Hamadryas – and all are found in Africa and there is a population of Hamadryas baboons found in Saudi Arabia.

The word “chacma” is derived from the Hottentot (Khoikhoi) name for baboon, namely chocchamma or chow kamma.

Chacma baboons are found throughout southern Africa and along the Chobe river. They are the largest and most terrestrial monkeys found in southern Africa. These baboons are highly social and can live in troops as large as 100 individuals. The troops I have seen along the Chobe river probably number up to 40 to 50 individuals. The next images is of a mother with her two youngsters sitting down on the sandy beach at Pygmy Geese bend on the Chobe river. It was early morning and the sun had just risen. The whole troop had come down from the trees where they sleep at night to avoid most nocturnal predators- except leopard. Grooming is an important social activity that strengthens relationships among a troop. Male to female grooming is used during courtships and nursing. Females partner with certain males for protection, especially for their infants.

On our second morning out on the photographic boat we heard a great commotion. A whole baboon troop was in a large Natal Mahogany near the river’s edge upstream from Pygmy Geese bend. This large tree was probably their sleeping quarters the previous night. Chacma baboons are diurnal meaning they only move around and feed during the day. There was a great deal of barking from many of the baboons. The reason for their alarm calls was that there was a pride of lions near the river’s edge not far from the Natal Mahogany in which they were seeking refuge.

Chacma baboons do not have prehensile tails but they do help with balance and can be great play things for young baboons. Chacmas have wonderful balance, a skill won with age and practice.

Chacma baboons have incredible balance and immense strength. They appear to have great strength in their feet, hands, arms and legs. Although they are not heavily built, except the large adult males, they must have exceptionally strong tendons.

Baboons are dimorphic meaning the males and females are quite different in size. The males are significantly larger and heavier than the females and can weigh between 30 and 40 kilograms, almost double that of most females. The males have long (around 5 cm), razor sharp canine teeth and a dark mane on their neck and shoulders. A large male baboon will give a leopardess a hard time and in a fight those large canines can inflict real damage.

Current research into baboon behaviour has some important things to tell us about how we got so far in the smarts business. After closely observing baboons in the Okavango Delta for many years, behavioural scientists Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth discovered that they (the baboons) spent much of their time gossiping and eavesdropping on others of their troop. While they had only 14 types of vocalising or “words”, their responses to these words and the movement of the troop indicated that they held in their minds many more concepts for which they had no words. Studies on baboons and other apes, including chimps, show that they all have considerable ability to form ideas and discern and remember sounds, but no ability to represent them. A language of mind has structure and requires that the thinker has a sense of self and of their separation from others and the world. Baboons have this, which makes them such fun to watch, but they live in the present tense. They lack the insight to imagine a different world. Or to change it. (Source: Daily Maverick)

Chacma’s have fascinating social structure and able to communicate via facial expressions, gestures and vocalisations. A baboon troop can and will operate cooperatively against a predator during the day especially a leopard. They develop friendships and misbehaving is swiftly and noisily dealt with.

A fundamental part of their development is their play in and on fallen trees and in bushes. This must be were they develop those strong tendons and learn to balance.

“It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.” ~ Randy Pausch

Gestation period of around 180 days and the females are very protective of the new borns.

Young Chacma’s are very playful. Often they can be very rough with each other but I guess this is part of what toughens them up.

Females carry their very young offspring under their belly. This can be tricky for the youngster especially when the mother is wading through water or drinking. The youngster tends to get dunked frequently.

The belly carrying technique is useful as the mother has her hands free and the youngster can breast feed when ever it likes.

Chacma baboons make wonderful photographic wildlife subjects because they are very active and have so many expressions and poses which we humans can identify with and more often than not find very funny.

“It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” ~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

“There was an ape in the days that were earlier,
Centuries passed and his hair became curlier;
Centuries more gave a thumb to his wrist—
Then he was a man and a Positivist.” ~ Mortimer Collins

Around mid-morning we found a troop that had come down to drink from the Chobe river. The baboons seem to enjoy the Elephant Valley’s little beachfront, where they can slate their thirst and rummage through the elephant dung for undigested berries, seeds and other edibles. Elephants digest their food with less than 50% efficiency. Elephants are non-ruminant herbivores so do not chew the cud, ruminate or belch like ruminant animals.

Baboons can often be found foraging or drinking with antelope such as impala and kudu. Both species benefit from more eyes, especially as drinking from the Chobe river delivers threats from predators on land and in the water. The Chobe river is infested with crocodiles some of which are many years old and massive and wily hunters.

This was one of the older adult females who had come down to drink at the river’s edge. You can see that they watch the water very carefully for any sign of an incoming crocodile. The baboons prefer to drink from small pools of water near the river’s edge because of the reduced threat of a crocodile attacks but if there are no pools they have to drink from the river.

An example of a very young baby getting wet while its mother was taking a drink from the river.

Once the youngsters are strong enough they can ride on their mother’s back. They seem to really enjoy the ride and climb on and off with gay abandon.

There is still so much in the world worth fighting for. So much that is beautiful. So many wonderful people working to reverse the harm, to help alleviate the suffering. There are so many people dedicated to making this a better world. All conspiring to inspire us and give us hope that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part.” ~ Dr. Jane Goodall

A partial backlit shot of a female Chacma picking up edibles from the water. This is an extremely dangerous place to be feeding, especially as she was already in the shallow water. An opportunity for a crocodile. We never saw a croc attacking a baboon while it was drinking, but it does happen.

Baboons will eat many things varying from the new shoots on trees and bushes to flowers, fruit, seeds and berries to water lily shoots. They will all eat birds eggs and even spiders and scorpions when they can find them. They often stuff there cheeks full of food to eat later when they feel safer.

This young Chacma was gorging itself on water lily shoots but obviously keeping a wary eye out for crocodiles.

Chacma baboons exhibit many vocal signals, which can be combined with visual signals. They use a well known double bark called “bokkum” as an alarm or aggressive signal; it’s given by only high-ranking males when there is aggression either between troops or within their troop. It is also used for a predator signal or for when a male communicates his presence or arousal. Lower-ranking males use a shrill single bark. This is expressed when there is a sudden disturbance or when one part of the troop rejoins another. Grunts are used for contentment, desire, or mild aggression. (Source: New England Primate Conservancy).

As photographer we can spend hours watching a troop of Chacmas moving along the river’s edge, there is always something happening whether it is youngsters playing, a teenager getting disciplined or the dominant male asserting his authority over the troop.

“The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself…” ~ Chief Seattle

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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