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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Name Game

 My time in Olivia hok (hok = enclosure/cage in Afrikaans) is getting better and better.  Every day I have been scheduled with the babies for 2 1-hour shifts per day.  Each of the babies looks remarkably similar to each other, most coated in seemingly the same color hair and fur, the same color eyes, the same exact nose, brow, and mouth.  Some are slightly older or younger, ranging from 4 months to 11 months old, yielding shorter or taller baby baboons, and some are rounder or thinner.   At first glance, and at  second, third, and fifteenth glance, they ALL look nearly identical.  Telling them apart seriously seems impossible.  Other more seasoned volunteers simply spout off their name as if each is a childhood friend.  I just look at each one as carbon copies of the same mold.

11 of 16 babies in Olivia hok

After several days of daily babysitting, I continued to mix up one baboon with another.  I started to get a decent grasp on several of them, such as Dot always clung to me around 4pm as I started the hok cleaning.
(Cleaning an enclosure with a baby attached to your hip, and usually someone sitting on your back, complicates and slows the process immensely!)  Jayne, tall and blonde, was fond of steadily grooming me for an hour, unless it was bottles/feeding hour.  Smeegal, the largest male, a show-off, and rather strong, pushes his limits with every contact including jumping on the head of new volunteers.  Slowly I started noticing little tufts of extra hair on the back of the neck, a slightly darker face, an overly mischievous attitude, a larger build, a pigeon-toed walk…  All those little characteristics needed to tell the difference between Hillablue and Adam, Emma and Dot, Xena and Te Amo, …  At about Day 8, I could solidly identify each from another, thankfully, and it was about this time that each baby shift became more enjoyable.

With Xena (left) and JayneE (right)
Up until this point, I was slightly mired in stress and lifestyle adjustments.  The chores of daily baboon living sometimes felt more cumbersome than the reward of working with baboons.  As soon as I could sort out their names, I could learn their personalities.  Their dispositions vary as much as humans, ranging from terribly naughty to gentle and sensitive.  I soon had several favorites, and some of them favoring me.  Just as a human chooses friends, baboons also choose their personal preferred circle.  Those in contact with humans choose amongst humans and baboons.  I felt honored to be welcomed in to the Baboon Circle!

Finally, I was starting to fit in and find my place in South Africa.  It took about 8-9 days until I was comfortable with the schedule, the daily de rigueur, and the intensity of the baby hok.  It was reassuring to feel these sentiments, particularly as I had devoted 6 weeks and loads of money to the cause.  Awesome!  (Whew!)


  1. Keep em coming Jessie!! Holly and I are already planning our trip there. We fired off an email last week to get details...all we need do now is decide when!! After reading your blogs it really is a matter of when not if!!! Thank you for leading the way!! Chris

  2. Jessie, you are a wild woman! You can do anything!!! So glad to hear things are warming up for you! Keep posting...its great to hear all about your adventures!!! Debbie