Don't Feed the Baboons

This week, I'd like to welcome fellow author Ann Siracusa to my blog. She's written a great post about her experiences travelling in Africa. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I did and please check out her new book All for a Blast of Hot Air.

By Ann Siracusa

Animals are the highlights of a trip to Africa. Seeing the wild beasts in their natural habitat is an amazing experience. But after seeing herds of elephants at a watering or watching a lion stalk its prey, you may never want to visit a zoo again.

In 2008 I traveled in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. In that part of Africa, you can't help noticing the baboons everywhere. They are such wonderful caricatures of human behavior, I became fascinated with them. Consequently, a baboon shows up as a secondary character in the fifth book of my romantic suspense series, All For A Blast Of Hot Air, just released by Breathless Press.

Meet Manny Balzac—Balzac for short. When my heroine falls out of a hot air balloon into the African bush, Balzac shows up with her lost cell phone, and they get acquainted.

In South Africa and other parts of southern Africa, baboons and warthogs run free like squirrels, rabbits, or coyotes.


Aren't they cute? Who could resist that smile? They're so human-like.

All of the five species of Baboons live in Africa and Arabia. They vary in size and weight, but all of them have long, dog-like muzzles and powerful jaws, close-set eyes, thick fur except on muzzles, short tails, and protruding butts--well, what did I just say about being like humans?--that are callused, hairless and nerveless pads for sitting. And bright red.

Well, that's not so human…I hope.

These ground-dwelling, social animals don't walk like humans. They get around on four legs, but they do "talk". Well, actually the sound they make is called a bark, but it's more like "Wa-hooo." A baboon bark can be heard for miles. They also grunt, screech, and click to communicate. Very manlike.

In addition to vocalization, baboons have a consistent repertoire of facial expressions, postures, and gestures, all of which have meanings. Baring the canines, which are long and sharp, is the response to a threat. Gestures of submission are expected in return. If not, there will be a fight.
  He's not so cute when he isn't smiling.

In fact, baboons can detect from vocal exchanges between individuals what the dominance relationships are between the individuals. They tend to take more interest in disputes between families and authority challenges than other types of disagreements within the troop.

Who knew?

Although mostly herbivorous foragers (and not carnivores), they will eat just about anything including insects, fish, shellfish, rabbits, birds, monkeys and small antelopes. They can be active at irregular times during the day and night but generally "get up" around 7 or 8 am and spend time with the troop grooming their long hair while the "kids" play. Then they leave in columns to forage and return to their sleeping place about 6 pm and engage in more grooming.

A family consist of one male and a harem of three to five females and their young. The males dominate the females and will cuff them around if they stray too far, and the females are often cause for aggressive fights among the males.

Another point for human-like.

Did I say baboons are human-like? Human juvenile delinquents, that is...and always hungry, too.

They are smart, clever, and adaptable. Through many years of living around humans, they have learned that it's easier to steal food than to hunt for it in the wild.

They get into all kinds of mischief and create serious problems for tourists and authorities all over southern Africa. And being clever and humanlike, they learn how to manipulate all kinds of locks.

Clever and hungry. Put those together and what do you get when baboons forage for food?

Breaking and Entering
At our first stop at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, we had rooms with French doors that folded back against the wall so the room was completely open to the balcony. No screens.
The view from the room was incredible and the weather pleasant, so most of the time we kept the doors open. 
Even the restaurant had no windows but was open to nature, including bugs (but that's another story).

The clerk at the registration desk warned us never to leave the room unless the doors to our balcony were closed and locked from the inside. Why? Because baboons will get in your room and plow through your things, looking for food.

While that didn't happen to me, another couple in our group was in the room when several baboons entered through the open doors. The woman ran out, and her husband chased the animals away, but not before they messed up the luggage and broke his expensive camera.

Home Invasions
My friends in South Africa, Lana and Eric Smal, told me a baboon had invaded their house. When Lana got up in the morning, she found a baboon sitting on her kitchen counter eating out of her fruit bowl.

Lana and Eric Smal

The Smals always kept their house locked, but apparently the baboon unlocked the screen on the window of their extra bedroom and opened the window. It cost them a lot to replace all the locks in the house with baboon-proof devices.

Trash Can Trashing

Driving from Cape Point to Hermanus, we came upon several baboons at the side of the road pillaging an overturned trash can. We stopped and, of course, I hopped out to take pictures. Because in South Africa they drive on the left, I was across the road and felt perfectly safe. My girlfriend screamed at me to get back in the car, and our driver just sat there and smiled.

The small baboon had a closed jar of peanut butter and was trying to open it, turning the cap just the way a human would. However, it was on tight. A much larger baboon, apparently the dominant male, tried to take the jar away. There was a fight, and they were all over the road. My traveling companion was still hollering at me to get inside the car. Finally, the big male wrested the jar away and tried to open it himself.

No luck. The cap wouldn't budge. He turned the jar upside down and gave the cap a light thump. No dice.

Finally, he held it up, seemed to consider the jar from all angles, then tapped the bottom on the asphalt road, broke off the bottom of the glass, and proceeded to scoop out the peanut butter.

In the parks and public places, even the trash cans in South Africa have baboon proof locks.

Highway Robbery and Harassment of Tourists
Baboons also break into cars. They stop them by sitting in the middle of the highway. Eventually, cars come along and stop. Several will entertain the tourists, while others sneak around and try to get into the cars.

At Knowsley Safari Park, 2009, a troop of baboons broke into the luggage compartment on top of a car and ripped apart clothes searching for food, although one did try on a hat. They'd been known to break side mirrors and windshield wipers but this was unprecedented.

Pick Pocketing, Purse Snatching, and Highway Robbery
This appears to be a case where the driver got out and was distracted while the baboon opened the door and took her purse.

Baboons on the Golf Course
My friend Lana also told me that baboons are "very naughty." They love to roam the golf course and steel the golf balls. It looks like the baboon below stole a golf cart…at least the food inside it.

By now you get the picture. Baboons are not sweet cuddly animals. They're not "out to get you" and can be perfectly fine neighbors if you understand them and take appropriate precautions. But don't feed or cross them. If you see a baboon raise his eyebrows, bare his teeth and shout "wa-hoo!", get the heck out of Dodge. You don't want to be close to those teeth.

A secret pre-nuptial honeymoon, a hot air balloon safari, and a plot to kill the US president all come together at a Vatican wedding.

I'm Harriet Ruby, tour director extraordinaire. Finally, I'm tying the knot with Will Talbot, my favorite spy and the love of my life, despite my nagging concerns about his dangerous profession.

He could get killed!

I don't want my children to grow up with an absentee father...or a dead one, but Will's work is his calling. I can't ask him to give it up. When he holds me in his arms, I have no doubt he'll find a way to make everything right.

To avoid the huge Italian wedding my mother is planning in California, I jump at an offer to get married in the Vatican, only to learn my whole tribe is making the trip to Rome for the ceremony. Darn. Now, I'm stuck planning a big wedding in two months without help. I freak out totally when my boss cancels my vacation time scheduled for the honeymoon.

At Will's suggestion, we get married at city hall, hire a wedding planner, and then take off on our honeymoon before the church ceremony. The first leg of our trip is a hot air balloon safari in Africa—well, it sounded like fun at the time—but afterward, we'll have two quiet, relaxing weeks totally alone.

When a member of our tour is kidnapped, I learn Will accepted an assignment from the US 
government to keep the kidnap victim under surveillance—after he'd promised me his full attention. All my doubts about the marriage raise their ugly heads.

Have I jumped the gun? Sure, we love each other, but is that enough to make this marriage work?

It won't matter if we don't get out alive.

I hurled downward, screaming, snatching at the air as my cell phone careened into the trees, outdistancing me. Blood pounding in my ears, I crashed through the dense foliage. Thick branches flexed, broke my fall, and snapped back, bruising my bones as I bounced from one to the next.
Long, sharp thorns viciously slashed my skin with deep painful gouges. I tried to cover my face with my arms. Seedpods ripped at my hair and tangled in it.
At last, I came to a jarring halt wedged in the crotch of the tree trunk, chest down, backpack up, still on me. In agonizing pain, I hung there, stunned, a throbbing lump, until I could draw in a deep breath. Bits of broken branches, seedpods like earlobes, and the chittering of animals and birds drifted down around me.
Held tight in the V of the tree trunk, I was able to turn my head enough to see the Zulu Warrior still above the trees, moving away. Elizabeth and Chanya hugged the edge waving and screaming. Will's voice wafted on the breeze, swearing. "Goddammit, Peter, put this damn thing down. We have to go back."
A blast of the burners roared and the balloon rose higher.
"Wait…" I cried, sucking in dust and a bug. As I coughed, the balloon vanished from my line of sight. "Don't leave…me." Those last words, a mere whisper.
My throat clogged with tears of anger and frustration…and maybe because I hurt so much. I closed my eyes, too weak and strung out to do anything else.
The hiss close to my ear and an unpleasant odor sent a spike of adrenalin tingling along my nerves. Gagging and shuddering with revulsion, I opened my eyes…to an open maw full of sharp, yellow teeth and long incisors surrounded by a nimbus of grayish hair only inches from my face.
A blue and red nose surrounded by a thick mane. Close-set beady yellow eyes. Stinky monkey breath.
With a screech of alarm, I jerked backwards, the sudden motion wrenching my body out of the crotch of the tree. I tumbled, ass over teakettle, down the trunk, bumping and scraping my arms and legs along the rough bark.
I hit the ground with a resounding thud and remained there on my stomach, whimpering while the baboon peered down from the high branches grunting and hissing in triumph.
Above me, high in the distance the red, green, and black balloon drifted farther away. My heart pounded with fear as I watched it get smaller. Then, I dragged myself into a sitting position and struggled to free the backpack which had twisted around me in the fall. In my mind, I replayed what had happened, step by step.
I had been foolish to lean out of the basket. No question there. But as I thought about it, I reached the only possible conclusion.
Peter tipped me out of there on purpose. The realization left me breathless and without resources. Why would he do such a thing?
I blew out a long breath and fumbled in the backpack for my water bottle. I took a deep swig and swallowed my panic along with the tepid but refreshing water. Even if my cell phone, which had preceded me in reaching the ground, had died an early death in the fall, even if I couldn't find it, the internal GPS would continue to send its signal.
Whatever Peter's motive, before they'd gone far, Will would force him to land the balloon whether he wanted to or not. Will would come looking for me. Until then, I needed a somewhat safe place in the vicinity, out of the sun, where I could hang out for a while. Encouraged, I recapped the bottle and put it away.
A loud screech from nearby caused my breath to catch. My head came up with a jerk, and I shifted my gaze across the meadow. There, about fifty feet away, two dark-brown baboons tussled in the undergrowth, one small, one much larger. The small one screeched and clutched something in one hand, trying to fend off the other. The bulky aggressor smacked it in the head. With a cry, the small one skittered away, loping toward me with the large male in hot pursuit, both of them howling.
Holy poop. They're coming right at me.
Steeling myself to the pain, I scrambled to my hands and knees and levered myself to my feet. Baboons were nasty animals. After surviving my fall more or less in one piece—I wasn't sure about the number of pieces—I had no intention of ending up in the middle of a confrontation between two rabid monkeys. I'd already seen enough baboon to last me a lifetime.
Driven by fear and haste, I moved a step toward the tree with the intent of sheltering behind it. My shoe sank through the soft ground into an animal burrow. My ankle twisted. New pain spiraled up through my leg, and I sprawled flat on my face. Spitting out a mouthful of dirt, I pulled myself to my knees and crawled toward the tree, moaning as I dragged my backpack behind me across the bare ground.
As I reached the trunk, a flash of grayish-brown flew from the branches above, coming so close the rush of air brushed against my face, and I sniffed a nauseous gamey scent.
Startled, I threw my body against the tree trunk. The baboon with the blue and red nose landed on all fours in front of me and sprang at the two charging baboons, snarling ferociously through bared teeth. I held my breath and covered my ears as a dust cloud enveloped the fighting animals.
Calloused red butts waved in the air, spine-chilling howls like ghouls on steroids made me cringe. Tufts of hair flew. I half-expected to see blood and furry brown body parts scattering.
Then it was over.
The two brown baboons darted off in opposite directions, still emitting ugly barks, and the big male from the tree, with the red and blue nose, sauntered in my direction. A few yards in front of where I sat, he plopped down on his haunches in a sort of squatting position, exposing obscene male body parts.
I gagged and swallowed hard. Not because of the display in front of me. Oh, no, nothing like that. The male waved the prize he'd wrested from the others and actually flashed me a toothy grin.
In his human-like hand, he held my cell phone.
I collapsed against the rough trunk, moaning. Why me? Why is nothing in my life normal?


R. Ann Siracusa is a California girl who earned her Bachelor of Architecture degree from UC Berkeley, then went immediately to Rome, Italy. On her first day there, she met an Italian policeman at the Fountain of Love, and the rest is history. Instead of a degree from the University of Rome, she got a husband, and they've been married going on fifty years. In Rome, she worked for as an architect and planner for a land development company for several years until she and her husband moved to the US.

  1962                              2012

Now retired, she combines her passions—world travel and writing—into novels which transport readers to exotic settings, immerse them in romance, intrigue, and foreign cultures, and make them laugh.

Her first novel, a post WWII mafia thriller, was published in 2008.  She now writes for Breathless Press which has published five books in the romantic suspense series, Tour Director Extraordinaire, one sci-fi romance, and three short stories.

She loves to hear from her readers and can be contacted through her website, Facebook, 

Twitter, or Google Circles.
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Michelle Liew said...

A wonderful share, and whimsical! Well written!

Maria Connor said...

I love Harriet - just downloaded a copy of her next adventure for my Kindle. Can't wait to curl up with Harriet and Will!

Linda Blatchford said...

Interesting read. Baboons breaking and entering, indeed :)

TaMara Sloan said...

Very interesting. I do have to say that baboons scare me to death. Thanks for sharing at Tales of a Pee Dee Mama.

Julie Maloney said...

I just read a book about Botswana and now I'm intrigued. This was a great read, thanks!

Mom In The USA said...

Hi Georgie Lee,
Your posts never cease to amaze me. Thank you for linking them up to the Thumping Thursdays Blog Hop. I look forward to seeing what's new here. CONGRATULATIONS on being featured.


retriever said...

Interesting article to read, greeting from Belgium

kipha said...

Wow! I never knew so much about baboons til now. Is it funny that I thought about the Regency romances as I read through this? Especially when I got to the Highway robberies. LOL That cracked me up! Not that I should be laughing but I couldn't help myself at how humane they are.

menopausal mama said...

What an interesting place to visit! The baboon pictures are great. I'm still cracking up over the picture of the one stealing the purse. But those teeth…oh my!

Tina at said...

That was a really fun and informative post! I might have my 4th grade daughter read it when we study baboons, so thanks! The book looks really fun too. Thanks for sharing at Booknificent Thursday!