Baboons and Backbone

Today’s article is a guest post coming at you from Norwegian adventurer Ragnhild, a fellow animal lover and global nomad. Ragnhild’s blog features some hard truths about animal voluntourism, but more importantly, sheds light on the life lessons we can learn from such experiences.


Greetings everyone! My name is Ragnhild and I run the travel blog Green Lights Ahead. I’m from freezing Norway and like to share my adventures from both there and everywhere else my passport might take me. Last year it brought me to Namibia, Africa, where I volunteered for two months with animals. Soon it will take me to Australia, to do a similar project, which will undoubtedly end with me being eaten by sharks. Today I’m going to share with you my experience with my frenemies that I left behind in Namibia – the hairy, dangerous and incredible baboons.

I faced many challenges as a first-time volunteer. Culture shock and sunburns were topping the list until I was put in Snoobab (read it backwards); the team that handled the baboons on a daily basis. From afar, to a newcomer, they seemed cute and playful; innocent. I was soon going to learn that they are much, much more than that.

My first lesson was about their weapons. I suddenly understood why a group of baboons are called a troop. They picked up on my nervousness immediately when I entered their enclosure. Watching me with piercing eyes, they kept at a distance until help from outside couldn’t reach me. Then they attacked. Their ears backwards, slick against their heads, screeching until they bit down on – my legs, arms, stomach, and one even got a piece of my butt. They clawed at me with nails so sharp that I still have scars.

The explanation for their behavior is the strict hierarchy baboons live in. They have a dominant male or female, who is strongest, that leads the troop. She protects them from dangers and takes care of the youngest. She also bites and chases the ones that fall out of line. No one likes to be at the bottom of a class system. The lower ones therefore always looks for someone they can put under themselves, and that day they found one – me.

“You lack true dominance,” said one of my coordinators. “You have to be able to stare them down. You have to project that if they hurt you, you will hurt them.”
“I can’t hurt them,” I responded, surprised. He sighed, loudly, “you white women are all the same – clueless to reality. This is Africa.”

From that day forward, I worked on my backbone. I straightened my shoulders. I kept my head high. And I got bitten and scratched – again and again. Until the day I realized that if I wanted to stop being prey, I would have to stop acting like it. Not a word escaped my lips as they came towards me. My heart was beating faster than the wings of a hummingbird. The first one bit me. I didn’t move an inch until the dominant female scratched my legs, and I turned my head to her and our eyes locked – she saw that I had changed, but saw it too late. I grabbed her by the neck and flung her as hard as I could. She got up seconds later – but didn’t come for me again. I was stronger than her, she knew that now. The rest of the troop stopped as well: there was a new leader in the enclosure. Me.

Thank you, Ragnhild, for this anecdote that teaches us about being confident. Not only did you stare fear in the face, but you showed it who is boss!

Have you ever had a similar experience in which you had to put on your big girl pants and do something you weren’t completely comfortable with? The few times I’ve ridden horses, I wanted to let them do their own thing, but that usually left me stranded yards behind the rest of the group. In the end, I learned you can cultivate a nurturing relationship with them while still kindly showing them who is boss. With kinkajous, though… it’s another story.

Be sure to follow Green Lights Ahead for updates on more animal + travel stories!

Interested in having a guest post on my blog? Shoot me an email: Blogging is all about being connected!

All photos for this post are copyright of Ragnhild S., Green Lights Ahead.



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