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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Backup: African Elephant and Chacma Baboon

Air Date: Week of

The Elephants’ Junior frolicking. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Near dawn at a waterhole in Motobo National Park, Zimbabwe, a young elephant makes the mistake of bothering a band of baboons. Living on Earth’s Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender relives the encounter.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

We travel now to Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe with Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender.


African Elephant & Chacma Baboon

Matobo National Park

LENDER: The chacma baboons are awake. Their calls echo out of the caves in the kopjes, bouncing off the rounded boulders of which the kopjes are made and down towards the waterhole below.



Down, and down, the chacma baboons come to drink, using all four limbs that are both hands and feet. They come in the narrow slot when it is light enough to see but just before sunrise when it quickly becomes too hot.


As much as it is only a wake-up call it is also an announcement.

Along the edge of the waterhole The Elephants’ Junior now approaches the drinking baboons. For The Elephants’ Junior, hardly more than a baby, they are just another means and method of amusing himself. He harangues them with his trumpeting, stamps his feet, flaps his ears, waves his little trunk. He is hardly formidable but he is bigger than they are and that is usually enough.

An olive baboon, closely related to chacma baboons. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

The baboons know what his game is, and most of them leave.

Most of them.

Not The Baboons’ Biggest.

The Baboons’ Biggest is large even for a chacma baboon and all he does is give The Elephants’ Junior, a look.

The Elephants’ Junior’s eyes grow wide. He leans back stopped in his tracks (like a cartoon character putting on the brakes except for the lack of dust and sound effects). And realizes what he’s up against. And that he’s made… a mistake.

Behind The Elephants’ Junior, unnoticed by him, The Matriarch’s Sister, seeing what has transpired (or is about to) ambles over. She stands well behind The Elephants’ Junior, silent and very still. There is no tension in her demeanor, all she has done is to make herself present.

And now The Baboons’ Biggest is looking not at The Elephants’ Junior but at her.

The Elephants’ Junior, following the gaze of The Baboons’ Biggest, glances behind him, but his demeanor does not change, because -

The Matriarch’s Sister to the rescue. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Even now The Baboons’ Biggest is reluctant to leave, making it apparent just how much he would like to take a piece out of that little elephant. But he is not stupid. The Baboons’ Biggest glances at The Elephants’ Junior one last time as he turns, and slinks up the hill and into the kopje. And The Elephants’ Junior in triumph kicks dirt after him in his retreat.

No one will be bothering The Elephants’ Junior.

Not today!

CURWOOD: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender.



Read the corresponding Field Note

Mark Seth Lender’s website

Special thanks to Destination Wildlife


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