"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The 2020 Africa Journals

Chapter Twelve
Baboons in the Light

From humble beginnings in the highlands of Mount Tembo in Angola, the flowing water that delineates the northern border of Botswana from the southern border of Namibia has changed names five times.   The river is called the Cuando in Angola, the Kwando where it enters Botswana, and then becomes the Linyanti, the Itenge, and eventually, the Chobe River.

While all the areas are famed for their own reasons, it is that stretch called the Chobe River that holds the most renown.   It supports the largest concentration of elephants in all of Africa, and its bird life draws tens of thousands of tourists from around the world.

The Chobe itself is short-lived as it soon joins the mighty Zambezi and plunges over a mile-wide fracture chasm in a thunderous roar known as Victoria Falls, or the “Smoke that Thunders” between the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia.   From there it flows through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean. 

A large boat makes its way up the Chobe River.

The mile-wide Zambezi as it cascades over the first gorge of Victoria Falls
A small section of Victoria Falls.

Much of the water in the Chobe is considered backwash from the Zambezi.  At certain times of the year—the wet season—the backwash is so strong the Chobe appears to be flowing upstream.   Farther upstream, portions of the river can disappear in the dry season and are little more than marshes and swamps.

The denizens in and around the river couldn’t care less what it’s called even though the water is essential to their lives.

Included in those denizens is a troop of baboons that we frequently saw in our excursions upriver of the boundary of the Chobe National Park.

On one early morning trip, the sun was just beginning to peek over the high ground above the flood plain when we found the baboons playing King of the Mountain.  That light provided us with opportunities to photograph “rim lighting”, a technique in which the subject is mostly silhouetted but the light provides a glowing outline of the subject.   It is especially effective  when the subject has a coat of fur.


We watched with delight as the baboon kids tried to summit the mountain, often falling back to the bottom and trying again.  

Some of the very young used every advantage they could, including grabbing another baboons tail to assist their climb.   Those tails, incidentally, provide balance to a climbing baboon, but no assistance in grabbing limbs and such like some monkeys.

And what did they do when they conquered the mountain?    Sat on their butts and wondered what to do next, of course.

Those hair-free rumps, by the way, are called “ischial callouses.” The skin has no nerve endings, making the rump a comfortable, permanent cushion to sit on.   When a female is receptive to breeding, those pads turn bright red and act as an aphrodisiac to the males.

During our evening trips on the river, we once again had the opportunity to photograph the baboons in warm light and backlit conditions as the animals returned to their usual spot along the riverbank from upstream.   The baboons were much more sedate in the evening as they were making their way to where they would spend the night hours.

Even the kudu made good subjects in the evening light.

Infant baboons are carried hanging from the chests of their mothers.  Later, they ride jockey-style on the adult's back.

And sometimes, the dismounts are quite comical.

Baboons are social animals and live in large troops.   They assist in the raising of all youngsters.   Often, however, they find themselves in conflict with humans as they raid settlements and towns for food.   Those huge teeth are well-respected by humans.

 This should be a link to a video of baboons youngsters frolicking, though YouTube has been giving me fits lately