A Sunday Afternoon in the Life of a Cam Addict
Sunday afternoon’s are one of my favorite times of the week. It’s pretty quiet, my house is all tidied up and I’m ready for the new week. So I usually settle in for a few hours of “me” time. I turn the TV on, usually ending up on a sports event of some kind and turn my computer on, put both the Africam cam’s up and the chat box and I’m pretty happy for a few hours.
The nighttime of South Africa takes up about half of my Eastern Time day. So I have learned to love the sounds of night perhaps more than the sightings during the day. I keep the cams on, sometimes just to listen to the sweet calming sounds of tree frogs and crickets. Other times I find myself glued to the screen in anticipation of a critter making an appearance based on the sounds I think I hear. This past Sunday was no different...or so I thought.
The sun had already set on South Africa, most of the animals had found their night time roosts and safe places and a sigh of calm had surrounded the area. The sky had drifted into the deep black of night that brings with it fear for some and safety for others. Other than the frogs and crickets, the perky sound of the fiery necked nightjar songs and an occasional impala’s rutting grunts and groans were all that disturbed the silence.
In the blink of an eye the whole atmosphere changed...a sound...almost like a bird came across the air at the elephant plains waterhole. I listened...a baboon cooed as if trying to reassure himself that all was well. Soon another joined him with the volume increasing ever so slightly. And then it all changed...
Without so much as an alarm call, what sounded like the whole troop exploded into a frenzy. Babies were screaming that sound that cuts right through your soul. Siblings and mothers were screeching and barking...so much sound...so mixed together you could barely tell one voice from another. The huge male of the troop had joined in and his sound resonated through the bush for a long way I’m sure. His deep voice of authority and assuredness suddenly became desperate and frantic. Still the babies were screaming, blood curdling high pitched screams. It went on and on, for what seemed to be an endless amount of time.
The camera operator was whirling the camera to and fro, searching for what the cause could be for such upset among this group of baboons. Suddenly in the background we could see several baboons run across the open area behind the waterhole...spread out, far apart from each other, they scampered quickly by. The baboons in the tree were still screaming, I could hardly stay in my seat...what was it? What could it be that was upsetting them so and sending some to the ground to run...making them very vulnerable to predators?
My heart was nearly in my throat by then, I couldn’t stop shaking...was it a leopard? A snake? Was it another troop trying to snatch the newborn baby that was only days old? I don’t know much about these animals yet and suddenly that made me feel so lost. I had never heard them become so upset, and I wanted to know why they were.
The sounds began to slowly turn into flustered whimpers and sounds of emotion. Cooing sounds and tiny barks...babies fussing, even the dominant male had a sound of desperation in his voice as he tried to calm himself and find the confidence needed to reassure his family. Then he let out one nice alert call...as if to tell us whatever it was that had happened...he was taking control back, at least for now.
I spend hours, and still spend time reliving this experience. I learned so much, their voices, their sounds...I was amazed beyond words.
If you haven’t listened to the sounds of that evening, beware before you do. The sounds will cut through your emotions and make the hair rise on the back of your neck. Some will be amazed; some will not be able to listen to the whole thing. But if by chance you listen...really really listen. You will hear the fear, the desperation and in the end the reassurance as each member of the troop tries to calm each other.
We may never know what happened, and perhaps it is better that way. For now though, I will continue to wonder, analyze and realize how very little I know about the world of the primates, and how very much more I want to know.