SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA: A LETTER HOME

Jun 29th, 2013

At the end of a long day, which had begun with watching lions basking in the sun after a night on the hunt, and ended with a particularly photogenic pair of cheetahs, we made it back to the safari lodge. The chorus of Jambos from the lodge staff were welcome after a day spent cooped up in the 4×4, as was the bottle of Tusker beer the waiter swiftly produced, followed quickly by a bowl of nuts. We had taken a pew outside and were enjoying the setting sun in silence, words failing us out of both exhaustion and awe at the visual of dusk enveloping the Serengeti.

My eye was drawn to a particularly inquisitive monkey to my right. It didn’t look aggressive but was eyeing up the nuts on the table with a look of envy and determination. The waiter had spotted the monkey too and knew what was coming far better than I. Out of nowhere he suddenly produced a broom and shooed the monkey away. Like Muhammed Ali in his prime, in one swift movement, the monkey slipped the broom and countered with a wild dash towards the nuts. His counter was effective. He swooped in, grabbed a handful of delicious nuts, sending the bowl careering off the table in a cloud of peanut shells. Before anyone could react, the monkey had darted up the sheer building face and perched itself on the roof’s edge to enjoy its ill-gotten spoils.

It was then that I noticed it had a baby monkey clinging to the underside of its chest. Eager to devour the fruits of its mother’s labour, the baby monkey blinked sleepily and dismounted from the haven of its mother’s thick fur.

There was some movement to the side of me, it was the waiter muttering under his breath in Swahili. Determined not be let the monkey have the last laugh, he picked up a small stone, pulled his arm back, and let it fly, more as a gesture of frustration than to cause genuine harm. The mother monkey was clearly as adept at dodging missiles as she was brooms and was not going to be undone by a small stone at 15 yards. The stone rattled off the roof canopy and fell ineffectively to the floor.

However, at this moment, the baby monkey, greedily stuffing peanuts into its mouth behind its mother, lost its footing. Whether it was the distraction of its mother’s sudden movement or simply its climbing inexperience, was not clear, but the monkey slipped off the parapet, fell two stories, and landed on the patio below.

Barely had the baby monkey’s body connected with the floor, and the mother was by its side. She scooped her child up and quickly returned it to the safety of her chest, before ascending to her sanctuary on top of the building. She then set about assessing the injuries. She was meticulous, as any mother would be, rolling her child over in her hands, inspecting every joint and limb, her eyes wide in concern.

When it became apparent her baby was okay, she slowly turned to the waiter. Her face was contorted with such raw human emotion. As far as she was concerned, he was responsible for the fall and near death of her baby and her face was a picture of pure hatred.

As we finished our Tuskers I sensed that for the monkey this was not over. She would be back tomorrow to claim more spoils. The waiters would be there too, trying to defend their visitor’s snacks. So continues the complex relationship between the lodge workers and the monkeys that inhabit the Serengeti National Park.

 

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons by Grahampurse

 

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