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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Note: Baboon, "The Observer"

Published: March 22, 2019


By Mark Seth Lender


The Olive Baboon lounging in his favorite chair. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender reflects on the exercise of trying to see the world through the watchful eyes of a species not unlike our own: the baboon.

Located in the midst of the Maasai Mara, the Musiara Marsh and the riverine forests and planes that surround it are as rich in wildlife as anyplace on earth. With the exception of the great apes, nearly every species you might expect to find in Africa can be found here, one close upon the other. Rather than familiarity breeding contempt, here it breeds awareness. A community of eyes that is always watching. In that sense, every creature is looking out for every other.

A camaraderie forced by the hierarchical connection of predator and prey, upon the prey.

The baboon watches. Watching him we see through his eyes. But the story here is not what the baboon sees but rather it is about watching the watcher. It is not the way the baboon looks, his aspect so similar to us in form, but the manner of his looking about that is our deep connection. It is his bright-eyed alertness with which we identify. And we do that because, following his gaze (if we do so with patience) we develop a very good idea of what he is thinking. Not least because our thoughts if one of us was alone and unprotected in the baboon’s vulnerable space, would be much the same as his.

Hear Mark Seth Lender read this essay

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