Mother Nature is full of surprises and living in our beautiful valley on the Agulhas Plain I am continually reminded just how privileged it is to co-habit this special place with so many other living creatures. Last week we had one of those ‘natures’ surprises that left us completely astounded. A few years back I embarked on a rather foolhardy attempt to grow a small vineyard on our farm in order to produce grapes for some small scale winemaking. What I did not realise at the time was just how partial the valleys birds and baboons would be to my grapes. Let’s just say that they have won hands down despite my best efforts at electric fencing, bird netting and even sleeping in the vineyard as harvest time approaches. I have accepted that the birds and baboons were here first, after all they are part of the reason we settled here in this beautiful valley. We have spent many fascinating hours watching our baboon troop in the fields below the house and are often woken by loud barking and screeching from their night time roosts in the Poplar forest not far from our house. With the exception of the odd fig, their fair share of chicken eggs and an obvious taste for ripening Cabernet grapes, they pay us little notice and seldom come near the house. To us the baboons are part of our farm and we are privileged that they choose this valley as their home for much of the year.
My three year old Great Dane, Brutus, does not quite share our tolerance towards our co-habitation with the valleys baboons. Despite our best efforts at restraint and an expensive veterinary bill to stich him up last year after an altercation with a large male baboon he sees it as his role to protect the farm house, chicken coop, vegetable garden and vineyard from these hairy foes. Unfortunately a few days ago he caught an older female baboon enjoying the fruits of the vineyard and the ensuing confrontation resulted in the untimely demise of the baboon. There was a huge commotion but by the time we got there it was too late and the baboon was dead. We were all much saddened by this event but glad that Brutus was not hurt. It was late afternoon and we left the dead baboon exactly where we found her, with the idea of burying her the next day.
When we returned the following morning we were amazed to find that she had been turned over, and her entire head and most of her body had been covered with sand and branches. We could see where the soil had been hollowed out from around her and used to cover her head as well as where the branches had been bitten off surrounding bushes. All signs of the bloodied injury to her neck were covered up and there were baboon prints in the sand around her.
To us it looked like she was an elderly female and that members of the troop had returned in the early morning, turned her over and partly covered her with sand and branches. According to baboon experts that we have contacted there is no record of this type of ‘burial’ behaviour amongst baboon troops? Three days after her death we were away from the farm for the morning and came back to find the entire baboon troop running riot across the buildings and vineyard – they had pulled out a lot of thatch from the roof, ate all the grapes, broken into the chicken coup and eaten all the eggs, pulled off gutters and the satellite TV dish, messed all over the walls and spread possessions from our bedroom around the garden. In seven years of living in the valley they had never done anything like this before – coincidence or not?