May 30, 2008

Cross- Species Relationships - CXPRESS 2004

Cross-species Relationships;
By Karin Saks

Jip is approximately five years old; a sub-adult member of the forty + Chacma Baboon troop who regularly visit our home here in The Crags. He slowly and hesitantly ambles up to Khoi-Anna - the resident cat – who is lying belly-up close by.

Little Joe, a younger baboon lower on the hierarchy, makes way for Jip to enter the cat’s space. After watching Khoi-Anna to check her reaction, Jip bends his head as she lifts her nose to touch his. Now that he has established her acceptance, he sits, placing his fingers in her fur and proceeds to groom - a gesture that cannot be misunderstood as anything but appeasing. This cross- species, poignant interaction is one of many that I have witnessed over the last year.

When first moving to this rented, forest cottage, I knew it provided a stop-over point for the local troop who had previously attempted to raid, yet the privelege of having wild baboons close by remained a magnetic attraction far outweighing any risk of food loss; I had experienced sharing a territory with these primates before and had inevitably learnt much about our relationship with them along the way; they seem to mirror the way we relate to them. With this in mind, creating a harmless safe environment - where we are able to co-exist peacefully - has been important. The alternative – to risk a hostile relationship – could be damaging to both sides.
The troop who visit have not only displayed exceptional social generosity towards my partner and I, but have extended this towards the farm animals whether they be horses, guinea fowl or cats. Visiting children are advised on how to behave while in their presence; passive body language enables both the children and baboons to watch each other without threat.

In her booklet, “Baboons on the Cape Peninsula”’ Ruth Kansky makes the observation that although male baboons have large canines for use in aggressive interactions in their society, they are not carnivores and do not consider humans to be prey. “Baboons, unlike dogs, have never killed a human”, the book claims, illustrating effectively the extent to which the nature of baboons has been misjudged.
Amongst the members of a group of baboons, friendships progress steadily over time due to a combination of good deeds and hard-earned trust - their friendships rely on a general system of reciprocity; give and take.

Unable to make assumptions about a troops past history with humans, I am always careful to assess the complexed social dynamics of each troop I encounter – each baboon is an individual shaped by genetics as well as past experience and in a world where humans are seen to be central this means that not only has dysfunctional behaviour manifested in humans but in some other animals too; baboons who are regularly shot at are easy to distinguish from their less harassed peers.

Taking all this into consideration,a harmonious co-existence is necessary for a healthy future for all primates – both human and non-human.