Every early morning, residents of Abela village in Katakwi district located in north eastern Uganda have to compete waking up with the hungry Baboons that live on the rocks found in the village.
“These Baboons are a nightmare to us in this village. We cannot harvest our crops fully, especially groundnuts,” narrates Gerald Idolit, a young farmer in the area
According to him, he has to wake up at 6:00 am to be at the garden before the Baboons arrive. He says this is a challenge because the wild creatures move in different groups.
“As I take time to guard the groundnuts garden, they go and uproot the cassava on the other hand,” he says.
Naomi Agemo, a radio presenter at Joshua FM located in the same vicinity, does not have a different story.
“Besides radio work, I am also a farmer. In one of my fields where I expected two bags of groundnuts as a harvest, I am getting only a single bag,” states Agemo.
She attributes her loss of yield to the attack of Baboons found in the village.
Another farmer, Martin Emma Emujo, a conservative young resident in the village [Abela], says that he feels pity for the Baboons at each moment he chases them.
According to him, he has a feeling that these animals have some human genes and thus, require humane treatment in return.
Leaders speak out
The area women representative at the Parliament of Uganda, Honourable Violet Akurut says there is need for Uganda Wildlife Authority to intervene and seek measures of how the livelihood and safety of Baboons can be guaranteed.
In a telephone interview, she said “You know Katakwi district is one of the blessed districts in Teso sub region to have such beautiful tourist attractors. My worry is, since the animals are now eating the resident’s crops, people are going to start killing them in anger.”
Akurut explains her concern following a series of reported cases of hunger in the sub region which did not spare Abela too.
According to her, people are still recovering from the after effect of hunger which was caused by the prolonged dry seasons. The dry spell barred locals from planting since there were no rains, and a few that were planted along swampy areas weathered too because there was no rain to sustain plant growth.
The district chairperson for Katakwi, Walter Elakas Okiring the district council is going to have a special sitting to discuss the issue and see how the area can be safeguarded from the Baboons.
“As a council we have not yet sat to discuss the issue. We shall have sometime for that and see how these animals can be safeguarded because they are a tourism asset to the district as a whole,” Elakas said.
What are Baboons? Are they a potential tourist attraction for this community?
Baboons are some of the most identifiable of the monkey world. They have tufts of hair on either side of their faces and large, hairless bottoms that can turn red. These old-world monkeys also do not have prehensile tails like some other monkeys, which means they don’t use their tail like a hand.
Baboons are the world’s largest monkeys, according to National Geographic. From head to bottom, baboons grow to 20 to 34 inches (60 to 86 centimeters) and their tails add an additional 16 to 23 inches (41 to 58 cm) to their length. They weigh about as much as a human child — 33 to 82 lbs. (22 to 37 kilograms).
The dog-like baboons live in large groups and are regularly seen along roadsides where they wait to ambush cars in search of food. They spend more time on the ground than most other primate species, but sleep in trees at night. If water is scarce, they can survive for long periods by licking the dew from their fur.
Baboons in Abela usually leave their sleeping places around 7 or 8 a.m. After coming down from the cliffs or trees, adults sit in small groups grooming each other while the juveniles play. They then form a cohesive unit that moves off in a column of two or three, walking until they begin feeding. Fanning out, they feed as they move along, often traveling five or six miles a day. They forage for about three hours in the morning, rest during the heat of the day and then forage again in the afternoon before returning to their sleeping places by about 6 p.m. Before retiring, they spend more time in mutual grooming, a key way of forming bonds among individuals as well as keeping the baboons clean and free of external parasites.