When Scott, Marolyn, Christy and Bobby were all visiting us we used to go on gameviewing drives almost daily. The best time for a short drive is in early morning or late evening, but sometimes we’d go mid-day and take a picnic lunch. There were several picnic sites in the park where you could get out and stretch your legs. (Apart from these picnic sites and the restcamps and staff village, one was not allowed out of one’s car anywhere in the park.)
People often had braais in these places, and there were several designated picnic spots, each with a braai place and a picnic table. The picnic areas were demarcated by simple wooden fences which did nothing to keep the game out, but there was always so much human activity inside them that the animals tended to stay away.
In addition to the vehicles and visitors, each picnic site was attended by staff who lived in a nearby staff village. At least one staff member was always in attendance to look after a fire that was kept going in the centre of the site. The attendant maintained this fire with slow-burning leadwood, a very dense and hard wood; he would lie one or more logs with their butt end in the fire, and then push them in as they burnt down.
This type of fire produced few flames but lots of heat, and a tea pot full of boiling water was always kept on a metal grate over the coals and embers. With this water visitors made tea and coffee.
Cookies and Baboons
One day we were at one of these picnic areas and Scott opened a box of cookies. There was a troop of Baboons in the area and one of the Baboons spied the box and approached Scott, intent on stealing the cookies. Scott had a cookie in one hand and the box in the other; although he tried to hide the cookies, the Baboon was insistent and actually got hold of Scott’s hand with a cookie in it and prised Scott’s fingers open.
Scott then threw the box to Bobby, and the Baboon, which was almost as big as Bobby, was soon beside him; Bobby quickly moved away and handed the packet to Christy. The Baboon then pursued Christy, who tossed the packet to Scott, and a little ‘keep away’ game developed. Finally the Baboon snatched the box, tucked it under his arm like it was a football, and ran down the road with one of his companions.
Bobby and Christy pursued, although Marolyn was yelling for them to come back, until the Baboons disappeared around a bend in the road. I guess they had been hoping the Baboons would drop the cookies, but the kids soon came back empty handed. Baboons appear relatively docile and many people like to feed them.
There were strict rules in the park against feeding any of the animals but particularly the baboons because they are not so afraid of people and are more forward. To some tourists baboons seem to be comical and harmless, but in fact they are incredibly strong and can be quite dangerous.
From time to time the rangers would have to kill members of a troop that had become accustomed to receiving handouts from tourists and had begun adopting aggressive tactics such as this one demonstrated. In this case no harm was done, and everybody had a good laugh over the impromptu game of ‘keep away’ which the baboon won.