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We're in Baboon Country

(From Sean Reis, TODAY Producer)For almost every segment on the Today Show, there are notes written. Sometimes lengthy, sometimes not. They can be background about a story, or a rundown of how the segment's been planned to go. Sometimes, in the case of the Where in The World, they can be quick notes about things Matt's going to encounter. This is one of those notes, about my first trip to Cape Poi

(From Sean Reis, TODAY Producer)

For almost every segment on the Today Show, there are notes written. Sometimes lengthy, sometimes not. They can be background about a story, or a rundown of how the segment's been planned to go. Sometimes, in the case of the Where in The World, they can be quick notes about things Matt's going to encounter. This is one of those notes, about my first trip to Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope, otherwise known as Baboon Country.

"We're in Baboon Country"

With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson, Matt, you're in Baboon country. It's about the wildest thing maybe I've ever seen. There are Chacma Baboons (I think they are commonly referred to as Red Assed Baboons for reasons that are pretty obvious) all over the place. You see them around the parking lot where we are doing the live shot. I'm not kidding.

We went down to do the survey. There are busloads of tourists. There's a little snack place. I went in to buy a soda and a sandwich. The nice lady behind the counter offered this ominous advice "if you're going to walk through the parking lot, hide your sandwich under your jacket."

Huh? What? So, I did that. I left the snack shack and immediately felt pairs of searing little beady eyes upon me. I made my way to the van like I was a drug mule. Nervous, and packin'.  I got in the van, and wolfed down my sandwich like it was contraband.

A short time later, the lot of us was standing at your live location talking to the Park Ranger.  Some stupid tourist was walking across the parking lot towards her car, sandwich in full view, swinging backward and forward in her hand as she walked. I thought, "Could you be ANY dumber?”  In about 5 seconds I saw three baboons come out of nowhere, one on point, the other two as back up. They attacked with a military precision. The attacker was on her in two seconds, slapping at the sandwich. This poor girl didn't know what the hell was going on.

I started to yell "DROP THE DAMN SANDWICH" and it was like the connection between her ears and her brain and hands was broken, but about a second and a half later after a slap on the ass by the baboon she dropped it. I've never seen a look of more complete bewilderment on a person's face.

Well, then, after those three rogue baboons got one sandwich, it was a full on baboon bonanza. There were about 6 of them now patrolling the parking lot looking for more stupid tourists with their plastic encased sandwiches. They were sitting on the roofs of cars, skulking around. When they are walking, they are about 2.5 feet of the ground, when they stand, they can approach 4 feet. None of them bared their teeth, which is how you know you're in real danger.

After all that, we got the Baboon briefing from the ranger. Here are the salient points:

  • If you've got something that a baboon wants, give it to them. They can kill a leopard with their bare hands. If they bare their teeth, start praying.
  • If they take your bag, don't worry. They are just looking for food. They will drop it, eventually.  They are not interested in sunglasses or hats.
  • If you feed them, willingly or unwillingly, in the eyes of their community, you have just entered baboon society at the lowest possible rung.
  • There's a sign there that says, "If you feed the Baboons, you've signed their death warrant." Meaning, once they view humans as a source of food, that's it. They stop hunting, gathering, all that.
  • If they come up to you, be cool. No sudden movements. Nothing. Just stand there. I did it. It works.
  • There are men out there whose formal title is "Baboon Monitor," quite something for the resume. They are dressed in green, and have 3-foot long sticks. Their whole job is to chase the Baboons away from people. It's a growth industry. There will be extra monitors out there on Friday. But damn, I want to see one on live TV. I'm also going to try to get you a stick to use during your intro.

Out at Cape Point, the ranger said that there are about 280 tagged baboons in the park. They belong to 5 different families or tribes. No kidding. After the briefing, In the midst of Baboon Bonanza, when they were all going nuts, he uttered the single greatest sentence I will ever hear.

"Now, I've got to go sort out the Baboons."