Yankari Game Reserve is one of the few areas in West Africa where wild animals are protected and get to live in their natural habitat without much interference from humans. Tourists may visit the park but there are no fences or barriers anywhere. The animals are free to roam around as they wish in an area that covers more than 554,000 acres of forest land.
The reserve serves as a home for more than 50 major mammal species including elephants and lions. It is also home to the olive baboon.
The olive baboon
The olive baboon is a type of monkey that is native to many parts of Africa.Unlike other monkeys, baboons have a dog-like snout and strong jaws. There are 5 species of baboons and the olive baboon is the only baboon species that is predominant at the Yankari Game Reserve.
Baboons at the game reserve have a complicated relationship with the humans. Tourists are allowed in designated areas at the reserve but this also means that the baboons will congregate in the same areas as the tourist.
Baboons live together in groups called troops. Each troop consists of several males, females, and their offspring. The baboons fight each other for dominance in the troop.
Baboons are considered to be “opportunistic omnivores” which means they will eat anything although their primary food has been fruits, seeds, berries, and plant material. With the encroachment of humans, they have also taken to eating human foods.
Baboons and humans
Since the Yankari Game Reserve became a tourist site, the baboon population at the site has increased.
As tourists, we stayed at cottages on the reserve and it was not unusual to have baboons visit the cottages and barge in if the doors were left open. They were after any food and would usually tear down the rooms leaving them in a complete mess.
Baboons can also be dangerous especially if they are threatened or intent on getting food. They are not afraid to confront humans and a 100-pound baboon can certainly cause damage. I had also been told that they could directly snatch food from your hands and show their aggression by baring their canine teeth. We were instructed to keep the doors closed at all times in the cottages.
My unforgettable baboon experience occurred when we were having a picnic at the reserve and my mother had laid out my birthday cake on the picnic blanket.
We were all set to cut the cake when our attention was diverted elsewhere. We stepped away from the picnic blanket for just a few minutes and that was ample time for the baboons to act.
When I looked back, there was a large baboon who had grabbed my cake and was already on the run. There were other members of the baboon troop around him. My first instinct was to run after him but he was fast and agile and bigger than I was. My parents and I decided it was not worth it to chase a baboon. You just don’t mess with them.
I had to console myself watching him from a distance as he devoured my cake. That was one of the few childhood birthdays when I went without cake.
The future of baboons
Baboons play an important role in the stability of the ecosystem. Today, there is concern that the baboon habitat is being overrun by humans. Deforestation, land clearance, and human settlement have resulted in the loss of baboon habitats and a dwindling population.
They are also considered to be a pest by humans and are poached and killed for meat.
While the olive baboon is still abundant in the Yankari Game Reserve, it is important to ensure that there is continued protection for these animals through conservation and education.
Foundations like the African Wildlife Foundation are working to develop solutions that will mutually benefit both humans and baboons.
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