How Living With Baboons Prepared Me for Living Through High School
The world of mean girls and cliques was a startling change from working alongside my primatologist parents. Fortunately, I’d learned a bit about navigating vicious social structures.
Illustration by Brian Britigan
I tripped over a thorn bush and stumbled into a warthog hole. My legs were already crisscrossed with slashes from a morning spent walking through spiny hippo grass in the flooded plains between islands in the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, and now streaks of blood appeared beneath the caked mud on my shins. I didn’t have time to stop though: I needed to find my monkey.
I was doing what my parents called a “focal follow,” a 20-minute period of time where I followed an individual baboon from their study troop and wrote down everything she did and everyone she interacted with in a string of complicated codes. The focal was meant to be a representative sample of how that female spent her time and, more importantly, who she spent it with, since in the world of baboon society the relationships between females determined everything. I found Comet again on the other side of the thorn bush and was relieved to see her just eating grasshoppers with her sisters as expec…
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