When I used to work at a zoo, the primates used to torture me (explained in detail here, but suffice it to say they were very mean), and I rapidly developed a primate phobia. Admittedly, I’ve always been somewhat afraid of humans, which are also primates. Humans are arguably the most dangerous, lethal, and unpredictable primate on the planet. I can flirt with sharks, or forget where that lion was, but I’m terrified of the groundskeeper at one of my research sites. I’ve also been chased by tiny vervet monkeys.
All I know is that primates are mean and smart and that makes them dangerous. Chimpanzees have rape and war and the bars on their cages at the zoo were several times the thickness of other animals’. Those things can rip a human arm off if they feel like it. So I guess as far as phobias go mine is not so unreasonable is what I’m trying to say (all you arachnophobes I’m lookin’ at ya).
For most of my field work in Kenya, I was accompanied by my wonderful friend Esther. I adored Esther…she was smart and kind and everyone loved her (I saw men propose to her no fewer than eight times during the duration of my study). She agreed to help me out because she knew the landscape and had a good relationship with the farmers. Oh and she speaks Swahili. Asante sana Esther, wherever you are now.
But Esther only worked five days a week and I’m a workaholic (seriously, it’s a problem someone save me), so I went out on a Saturday by myself. I went out to my farthest site, enjoying the beautiful afternoon and thinking about how lovely it was and generally enjoying myself. I was picking up bee bowls along a transect. As I knelt to pick one up, I heard a barking shouting sound and I looked up. Through a gap in the hedge, not twenty meters from me, I watched a huge black baboon stride past.
The baboon did not see me through the hedge. I don’t know if it knew I was there or not as I hadn’t been making any noise and was sheltered by the vegetation. I knew baboons could be aggressive (see what happened to one of the camp dogs), and besides, I’m terrified of primates, remember? A chill shot down my spine and I froze for a moment.
As soon as it was out of sight, I hurriedly packed up my samples and moved as fast as I could through the bush back to the relative safety of the village. (I made a hilarious flawed attempt to tell a farmer I passed on the way that there were baboons in the area and longed for Esther’s grasp of Swahili)
I survived long enough to photograph this much paler and smaller (of course) baboon in Tsavo National Park the next week.