Baboon Burglar

In the early 1980’s, Jean and I became intrigued with foreign travel and began seeing as much of the world as we could.   Several times, fellow travelers praised their trips to see the animals of Africa.  It was difficult for us to get excited about a safari since our impressions of Africa had been determined by Hollywood, especially the adventures of Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta.

In October 1991, we decided to find out about Africa and flew to Nairobi, Kenya and joined a tour group.  There we were introduced to most of the wild animals of the world from an open top Range Rover.  Apparently the animals think that the van belongs in their kingdom so we could get very close to them for picture taking.

We saw prides of lions, some playing with their cubs and others feeding on the carcass of its prey.  We never knew when we would be stopped by herds of zebras, gazelle, wildebeest, water buffalo or other animals.  Small groups of elephants were found, often with infants dashing under and around them and the giraffes were above it all grazing in the trees.

I cannot express how thrilling it was to view so many species of wild animals, many we had not seen in zoos or ever heard of.  The one we remember most we encountered at our last encampment.  This was a tented resort in the Masai Mara Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge extends deep into Tanzania where it is know as the Serengeti National Park.

These tents were spaced about twenty feet apart and looked out on a savannah backed up with acacia trees.  In the open space there were several families of baboons cavorting and apparently enjoying life to the hilt.  To keep those guys from infiltrating our community, there were two Masai men standing tall in their flowing red robes and watching and chasing the baboon families at all times.

Our tent had a large bedroom with two single beds and chest backed up to the head of the beds.  A canvas wall separated this room from the dressing room, which contained a closet, a toilet and a shower from which warm water flowed occasionally.  The entrance into this room was a large flap in the canvas which could be tied open.  The front entrance to the tent was a zipper in the center of the canvas wall which could be tied at the base when closed to make sure that there were no visitors from the open field.

The kitchen workers brought coffee, cream, sugar and rolls to us before our early morning animal drive.  This morning, our ride was in a balloon to view the animals from a different perspective followed by a champagne breakfast on the savannah.  It was an amazing morning.

After we returned from the morning activities, Jean went into the tent and I stayed out front and visited with a couple of the men who had been with us.  I looked over at our tent and could see Jean in the dressing room with the flap open.  I rushed into the tent to stop the viewing that Jean was providing.  Before I could reach the open flap, I heard a loud startling noise and strange animal sounds.  I turned around and there was a huge granddaddy of all baboons leaping into the room.  All I knew to do was to stand tall with outstretched arms and shout “Scat, Scat”.  This is what I had been told to do if I encountered a mountain lion while hiking.

The old feller jumped onto Jean’s bed, picked up something from the top of the chest at the head of her bed and scampered back outside.  I didn’t know what in the world had happened but I heard the two guys out front laughing and yelling “Don’t worry Jim, he only got your travelers checks.”

I ran outside and saw my new buddy disappearing out of our area. On the concrete patio was the pewter sugar bowl and spoon that had been brought to us with our coffee that morning.  The old boy had stolen the sugar cubes and placed the bowl and spoon neatly on the edge of the patio.  He obviously was an old hand of scouting the area for unzipped or untied tent flaps and his mother must have trained him to take only what he could eat.

When we returned home, Jean told this story to my elderly and much traveled Aunt Allis.  Aunt Allis said “Jean, that would have scared the pants off of me”.  Jean’s reply was “It would have me too if I would had any on”.


James, our guide, told us of his first encounter with Americans. When he was about six years old, he and a friend went to see a movie in an open field.  An American tobacco company had advertised the free movie by using loudspeakers on a truck touring the area.  The movie was a Tarzan movie.  When James returned home he told his mother what he learned about the people living in New York.  He said “Those people hardly wear any clothing and swing from trees”.  His mother took away the cigarettes that had been given him.


Jim Pershall

May 2010