BOOKS: Life With Darwin & Other Baboons
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2004:
Life With Darwin
& Other Baboons
by Fransje Van Riel
Penguin Books South Africa Ltd.
(2nd floor, 90 Rivonia Rd., Sandton, 2196,
South Africa), 2003. 227 pages, paperback.
113 South African Rands .
(about $21 U.S., c/o <www.exclusivebooks.com>.)
It is undeniable that baboons cause problems for farmers in
South Africa. Unfortunately, the usual response to their presence
is to shoot them. Life With Darwin & Other Baboons seeks to reduce
hostility toward baboons by providing insight into the complexities
of baboon society and the inevitable conflicts that arise when
animals and humans use the same habitat.
I once visited the South Texas Primate Sanctuary in Dilley,
Texas (now known as the API Primate Sanctuary). Founder Lou Griffin,
then still the director, knew every snow monkey and understood how
they fit into the group. When Lou introduced me to the snow monkeys,
she gave me the privilege of entering a fascinating new world. Life
With Darwin opens a similar door.
Fransje Van Riel introduces us to baboons through Karin Saks,
foster mother to an orphaned infant named Gismo. As Karin cared for
his physical and emotional needs, she realized that she would
ultimately have to find him a wild baboon family. Locating a wild
troop, she slowly introduced Gismo to it. Thanks to her
extraordinary efforts, the troop accepted him.
Other baboons Karin fostered were less lucky. A farmer shot
Darwin’s mother while she sat in a tree nursing him. When they fell
to the ground, Darwin was paralyzed and his mother was dead.
Eventually Karen moved to the wilderness with her young
charges to study the behavior of free-ranging baboons. Her detailed
observations of their daily life enable readers to feel acquainted
with many baboons on a personal level.
Van Riel shows how difficult it is to find a sanctuary for
Darwin and other orphans who cannot survive in the wild. We learn
how hard it is to find a safe sanctuary for any baboon, between
baboon politics and human reluctance to have baboons for neighbors.
Life With Darwin was written in part to raise funds to build
a naturalistic sanctuary for Darwin and others like him. It is also
an eloquent plea for understanding of these intelligent, sensitive
creatures, who deserve to live without persecution.