Trekking higher into the heights of the mountains my heart pounded with growing ferocity. My mind was reliving the scene I had seen all those years ago over and over again. Was I going to see them? Would they be that close? Will I see that many? As we stopped we to catch our breath we noticed a Lammergeier vulture soaring high above us, catching the morning light with a bone firmly clenched in his claws. The stillness, the fastness, my breathlessness was only broken by the thud of the Lammergeier dropping his prize bone to shatter it enabling it to feast on the juicy marrow within.
It was at this point that the hushed tones of David Attenborough starting playing in my ear. I could hear his voice and visualise him in his light blue shirt and chinos explaining that we were in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia in search of the Gelada baboon. I had many, many years before this moment seen a movie by Attenborough on the Gelada baboons which has long since been ingrained in my memory. I remember thinking then that I want to see those baboons for myself – quite possibly the coolest primates on the planet.
We trekked a bit more and edge closer to the cliff face, our guide Sammy told us to sit down and wait as the baboons will soon be making their way off the cliff face where they had roosted the night before. I found myself a nice grassy patch to sit on in the sun and waited, hoping this was to be the setting of my Attenborough movie moment.
There was movement, and a flash of blonde and beige popped up from the edge of the cliff. This was it. First one, no two, no five Gelada baboons made their way onto the plateau that we were sitting on, with more tagging along behind. In my ear I could hear Attenborough explaining that Geladas have a very complex social structure and is the only primate that is primarily a graminivore, meaning they mainly eat grass. Some kept a watchful eye on me while chatting away to their family and friends. Soon they were all around me and I felt the privilege to be welcomed into their troop.
Young ones chased after one another, whilst the elders sat quietly enjoying the heat and the teenagers showed off to prospective mates. As I kept watching these magnificent animals I noticed the blood-red diamond shape the males had on their chest, the females were a little less prominent but just as striking.
Further in the distance, I could see a female grooming a huge male baboon. I had a little giggle to myself as this male had a very big cape of hair around his face, think a mixture of Debbie Harry circa early ’80s and Brian May of Queen circa now. Big, big hair. I started to wonder if Attenborough would have made the same comparison – perhaps not.
As the wind started to pick up the baboons started to drift off to get out of the wind, perhaps it plays havoc with their tresses. Again Attenborough was in my ear summing up what an extraordinary morning it was and probably saying that these baboons are pretty much the coolest primates on the planet – well, certainly in my Attenborough movie.