Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 33

1 08 2008

Vervet Samburu

…and can you send up some toast with butter and jam, some orange juice… (Samburu, Kenya)

Never leave corn flakes unattended.


Almost everyone who heads to the wilderness anywhere in the world hopes to have a close encounter with wildlife. Whether it’s kangaroos, koalas, macaws, bears or orangutans, the local fauna is usually a big attraction and the closer the encounter the better the experience…within reasonable limits!


I have been attacked by brown kites, dive-bombed by skewers, pursued by a leopard seal, bent-double to avoid a jelly-fish, driven insane by a cricket, deprived of sleep by noisy frogs and been chased by elephants and hippos.  But there’ll always be a special place in my heart for monkeys…particularly in Africa.


It’s not unusual to find notices in African campsites warning visitors to take care while walking and not to keep food in the tents. In Amboseli the warnings pertained to elephants, which – until an electrified fence was installed – had a habit of dropping by for afternoon tea but often overstayed their welcome. In most parks however, unless you are fond of keeping a side of zebra in your tent, the biggest problem are baboons and monkeys.


I was on breakfast duty in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. It was a beautiful sunny morning and already tropically warm. The Ewaso Nyiro River wound past our idyllic shaded camp from where we had seen elephants, buffalo, giraffe and hyena and had in turn been watched by voyeuristic tree-top baboons while we took our showers. The only company I had for breakfast was a scattering of superb starlings, a few mourning doves and a tree full of vervet monkeys that seemed half asleep and rather disinterested in my activity.


Or so I thought.


Pans of sausages and eggs sizzled on the fire while large kettles of water boiled away. I started to unpack the breakfast cereal, fruit, powdered drinks and loaves of bread all the while blissfully unaware of the stealth-like encroachment of my simian chums.  In hindsight, I imagine they shimmied down the trees on the side furthest away from me. Once on the ground, they likely belly-crawled towards the food using a few active youngsters playing with each other on the nearest branch to distract my attention. I continued to stoke the fire and toast bread until I heard a clatter of pots and pans behind me.


I spun around.


There before me stood a vervet monkey, a bag of corn flakes in his small hands. We stared at each other. He squinted in the bright sunlight. I lunged with my sausage tongs. He feinted to the left, did a neat step-over and then darted up the nearest tree. From a low branch just beyond my reach he taunted me by opening the bag and eating the flakes one overflowing handful at a time.


I contemplated throwing a stick in his direction but reasoned that he’d probably catch it with a free hand and hurl it back with greater accuracy and force than I could ever manage. Instead, I did what any self-respecting male would do in that situation: I went to my tent, got my camera…and then told my campmates that if they thought the monkey was bad, they should have seen the leopard!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan










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