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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2016 (73) > Monkey business

Monkey business

Baboons are a ubiquitous feature of most African parks. But so often we look beyond rather than at them. This is an oversight, says Mike Unwin, since few other animals offer as much action and intrigue as these primates

It’s a familiar scene. The gang spreads out on the mid-morning quest for food. Some comb the ground as though searching for loose change; others comb through their companions’ fur with nimble, nitpicking fingers. Mothers clasp babies, youngsters dangle from overhead branches and one big guy perches on a termite mound, elbows on knees, surveying his surroundings.

Suddenly, the serene ambience is shattered by a shrieking dispute between a couple of adolescents who tear through the troop, drawing irritated rebukes. Bystanders lope away disdainfully. Peace returns — for now.

Baboon society often appears to mirror our own. Indeed, scientists consider that it is in many ways analogous to that of early hominids, with baboons being — like our ancestors — large, omnivorous, terrestrial, sociable primates that live primarily in African savannas. Despite this, however, we seldom have a good word to say about them. It is almost as though their behaviour is just too close to home.

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