Behind the image: two sides to a story.

Motorist gets caught out by Fred's clever door-opening technique.

Sometimes an image can be open to interpretation.  Take this photo for example, a picture of Fred the baboon, with two juveniles sitting happily in a car.  A car raid for sure, but was it the fault of carelessness on the motorist’s behalf?  What had happened that the baboons had taken control?   I took this photograph in May 2009, and to me it is as relevant today in summing up the ongoing symptomatic issues of a failed conservation policy.  Baboons learn to associate people and cars with food, and therein lies the problem.   Back in 2009 the Smitswinkel troop’s car raiding behaviour had already escalated and many motorists, particularly tourists were being caught out, unaware that baboons could open car doors.  In this incident a young couple had pulled over into one of the scenic lay-byes on the outskirts of Murdock Valley, where the troop were chilling some distance away.  Fred casually walked over and opened the rear passenger door.   It’s not what most people would expect, however they stayed calm and got out of the car.  It transpired that the woman had worked at a primate sanctuary and was familiar with the ways of monkeys.  She was aware that it was best not to challenge an alpha male and they quietly waited until eventually he and the juveniles left.  Then there were no warning signs conveying precautions to keep car doors locked and windows closed and one can sympathize that they were taken so completely off guard.

Since then signage has been erected along the scenic drive and there are fewer opportunities for car raids if people are sensible and heed the instructions.  Sadly  it was too late for Fred as his actions became ever more aggressive and the authorities were forced to put him down.  This particular photograph was the start of a collection which culminated in an exhibition at the Casa Labia in 2011.  It was a campaign to highlight the issues and draw attention to the plight of the Smitwinkel baboons, as well as the impact of our harmful human environment.

7 thoughts on “Behind the image: two sides to a story.

    1. Yes, on one level was ignorance, and on another human arrogance. For want of a better description, maybe it was about securing dominance of place. Baboons have an uncanny way of ‘going for the gap’, finding the opportunistic moment to score ‘easy pickings’, going for human food rather than foraging in natural vegetation on the mountain. An autopsy revealed a shocking indication of man’s cruelty, he was full of bird shot and lead pellets. In the end i think his aggression was more about asserting dominance over those who tried to control him.

  1. Liz, I thank you for this kind reminder.
    Thanks for following and putting me on your blogroll. I have just put you up under Nature Photography. Your blog is a fine inspiration for me, thanks for being so close to nature.all the best

    1. Thanks for your support, Dina! It’s very encouraging to receive such wonderful comments. I hope that 2013 brings you and your family good health, fulfillment and i so look forward to following the posts on your site. It too is inspirational :).

  2. At first the photo struck me as hilarious, but in reading further it isn’t funny at all. We inadvertently taught Fred to act the way he did, and he paid with his life.

  3. Boy, Liz, that’s so utterly sad and yet not at all surprising. How does the troop (?) respond to the death of the alpha male, especially in such unnatural circumstances?

    1. They’re sentient creatures, and i had a sense that they were all very subdued. Prior to his death, two outside males had come onto the scene and one had been challenging for leadership and at the same time, four natal males broached out of sub adulthood and were also fighting for rank. What had been a cohesive group under Fred’s direction, fractured. Three of those other males have also been euthanised, and now the troop is partially run by a natal male, with the elder of the troop ‘guiding’. The new kid on the block appears reticent to take top spot.

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