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February 3, 2011 / Dan Whipple

Climate change creates crazed baboon goat murderers

Seret and friend

Seret and friend

We took a long walk through a canyon in Hell’s Gate National National Park near Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, the same canyon in which the movie Tomb Raider was made. The canyon was reminiscent of those in Canyonlands National Park or Zion, slender, sinuous, sculpted, steepwalled. Flash floods tumble enormous boulders tens of kilometers a year between the canyon walls.
Our guide was a Maasai named Seret. He told us that not long ago the rains fell predictably there—the short rains October to December, the long rains February to May. “In the last five years, though,” he said, “something has changed. We can no longer rely on the regular rains. We have to move the cows differently. Something has happened.”

And the normally cordial relations between the Maasai and the local baboons are also imperiled, Seret said. Three years ago, he said, he saw a baboon kill and feed on a baby goat. He brought it to the attention of the village elders. They had never seen such a thing. But over the last three years it has happened regularly.

This change in behavior is unusual, but not unprecedented. Baboons in Kenya usually eat wild fruit. But a story in the Daily Nation—Nairobi’s daily paper, for which my senior wife works—from September 2009, said that baboons killed 86 sheep and goats in a week in the Bura District, down near the Indian Ocean. Officials there said a persistent drought was driving baboons to eat the livestock because the fruits they usually feed on had dried up from the drought. Drought conditions are also prevalent near Naivasha.

Seret is educated, well-spoken, has spent time in Europe. He didn’t blame climate change when he was telling us this, though he certainly knows of it. Perhaps he’s a Republican (although he was wearing a holographic Obama belt buckle). But this potential connection between climate and baby-goat-murdering gangster baboons warrants further analysis. I’ve emailed a couple of scientists about it, but haven’t heard back.

Liz Gates walking up the canyon

Liz Gates walking up the canyon


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