Shikoku has turned into a total teddy bear. I mean, he still takes what he wants from tourists, opens doors, and makes lower-ranking males quake in their booties. But since Ubergiji gave birth to little Ufaransa (Swahili for “France”), he’s been whiling away the hours by sitting uncomfortably close to her and grunting softly. To date, I have never seen a male do this. Sufi, king of child-lovers (don’t make that dirty, please), is all for grunting at kids, but not the way Shikoku does. Shikoku sits in front of Ubergiji, legs in front of him, casually scanning his surroundings while letting out deep, throaty, and frankly very comforting grunts (they feel a bit like lullabies to me). Sometimes he reaches down and gently begins to groom Ufaransa with a single finger, brushing back his extremely sparse black hair in search of any little nasties he might have picked up. It’s kind of freakin’ adorable.
Intrigued by Shikoku’s sudden interest in children, I began to wonder why all the intense hours spent practically spooning Ubergiji. See, most of the time when males spend long periods next to females it’s because they’re getting groomed. In fact, males tend to be grooming whores and a little chincy on the tit-for-tat. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen a male go up to a female and present himself for grooming. Chances are that same female has already groomed him for over an hour earlier that day, so you can hardly blame her when she pretends not to see him. Realizing he’s not going to get some without giving a little first, the male will then start grooming the female, carrying on for approximately 12 seconds before he groom-presents again. Usually the female will give up and groom him (a proper length of time too…at least several minutes) or just walk away. So, anyway, Shikoku’s behavior is unique and a bit rare, at least in my experience.
And then the reason became blazingly clear yesterday. AC Troop, Shikoku’s humble abode, has recently garnered a couple newbies. As I’ve mentioned before, male baboons transfer troops at puberty, joining a new group so they can start procreating with individuals to whom they are not immediately related. In Gombe, though, they seem to transfer more often, with some males literally sitting on the fence between two groups, passing mornings with one and evenings with another. Well, our two new additions are Gobosi, a complete stranger from the deep woods, a little nervous around people, but perhaps a rather good sort of fellow, and a male from DC Troop whose motivations and aspirations are less clear (he’s popped up several times this year). Though there is not a lot of evidence for infanticide (baby-killing) in our particular baboons, it is not uncommon for baboons in general to have a problem with new males coming in and taking out the little ones (without babies the moms start cycling again and are ready to give birth to new children, some of whom may be the offspring of these new males). And the resident males know this.
Yesterday, Ubergiji had dragged little Ufaransa up a tree (and fended off a playful chimpanzee kid who wanted to get near her…talk about SCREAMING). Shikoku was some bit away in another tree, just hanging out. Then our guest from DC (whom I call Mgeni (which means “Guest” in Swahili) started making his way toward Ubergiji’s tree. Suddenly, Shikoku came flying down from his own tree and rushed over to sit and look generally intimidating under Ubergiji’s tree. Deterred (though I won’t claim he had any bad intentions), Mgeni sat down. Shikoku stared at him. Mgeni stared back. Eventually, Shikoku stood up and strutted over, mounting Mgeni in typical baboon fashion to make sure it was 100% clear that this visitor was entirely inferior. Mgeni fear-grinned up a storm and then took off rather quickly like he’d just remembered he had somewhere else he had to be. Shikoku spent the next hour trailing Ubergiji and all the males (and quite a few timid females) stayed well away.