by Pete Roberts
Date: 10th June 2011

Baboons on the road

ZAMBIAN TRAGEDY –  Early in June a tragic incident occurred on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls. Following a stand-off with a baboon, which had taken an interest in a plastic carrier bag a tourist was carrying (which we understand to have only held a camera and no food), an American tourist slipped and fell to his death from the edge of the gorge.

The baboons on the Zambian side have long been far more troublesome than their relatives on the Zimbabwe side, often hi-jacking food stuffs from local people crossing the bridge near the border post and causing problems for tourists walking between the Falls and the Hotels located very close by.

Care should be taken when encountering baboons, even in Victoria Falls town and surrounds, especially if you are walking on your own and carrying food in plastic shopping bags. A sudden snatch-and-grab attack can leave you shaken and holding a torn plastic bag with a few less items of shopping. A backpack is probably safer (and reduces the plastic rubbish created by the town) and often locals are around who will be more than happy to walk with you if you are unsure. If re-using plastic bags for carrying non-food items, ensure the bag is clean and has not recently carried fruit or other fresh food stuffs which may leave behind an inviting smell to baboons. Certainly never feed baboons or any other wild animal.

Large male baboons can be extremely powerful and intimidating, especially if running straight towards you, with obvious intent in their eyes. If you find yourself in this situation, drop the shopping bag and step away. Do not attempt to wrestle with baboons for the ownership of your bag.

Residents of Victoria Falls walk past baboons every day, often within a few metres, without event. Knowing your baboon behaviour helps, and if you can’t observe baboons in the wild, watch a few wildlife documentaries to help you read their behaviour and reactions. Animals also read our behaviour, and it is important not to show fear or panic and to walk with confidence, purpose and direction. Keep an eye on all the baboons around you but avoid prolonged direct eye contact with individuals as this can be seen as a challenge or threat.

The key thing to remember in all animal close encounters is respect. Wild animals can be dangerous. However many animals will react with calm acceptance of your presence if you do not push their boundaries of tolerance. Whilst this varies with species and individuals, learning to read animal behaviour and react accordingly is a key requirement of any bush guide or ranger, or indeed anyone living in close proximity to wild animals – such as the residents of Victoria Falls.